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PirtI Ediiitn, Sefiitmttr 1919 
SuMid Sditian (Reviitd and Enlargtd), fuly 1920 

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Preface to Second Edition 


The exhaustion of the first edition of this book, within so 
short a time of its publication, makes it difficult to add 
much new matter for the reissue now called for, or, in the 
light of subsequent research and experience, to revise what 
had already been written. 

Any book that seemed to show a way of meeting the 
present building difficulties, however partially, was fairly 
assured of a welcome, but the somewhat unforeseen demand 
for my small contribution to the great volume of literatmre 
on cottage-building is, I think, to be attributed chiefly to 
its description of Pis6-building. 

Of the very large number of letters that reach me from 
readers of the book, quite ninety-nine out of every hun- 
dred are concerned witiii Pis6. 

The other methods of building have their advocates and 
exponents, but it is clearly Pis6 that has caught the atten- 
tion of the pubUc as well as of the Press both at home 
and abroad, and it is to this method of construction that 
I have chiefly devoted my attention since the writing of 
the book as it first appeared. 

In our English climate Pis^-buildiiig is a summer craft, 
and the small-scale experiments of one person through a 
single summer cannot in the nature of things add very 
greatly to the sum of our knowledge of what is possible 
with Pis6 and of what is not. 

Most of the new data have come through the building of 
Mr, Strachey's demonstration house, an account of which is 
included in the present volume. 

At the time of writing, various tests are being carried 
out with th^help of the National Physical Laboratory; but 
the results, though exceedingly encouraging, are not yet 
ready for publication.^ 

The fact that Pis6-building is essentially a " Dry-earth 
method " makes necessary the creation of artificial summer 
conditions under which the experiments may be conducted 

^ Certain of these have since been issued and will be found in Ap 
pendix IV. at the end of the book. 



Preface to Second Edition 

during the past winter. As a result of these researches, 
a considerable mass of useful data has become available 
for the opening of the present building season.^ 

Much helpful information is also likely to come to us 
from the Colonies, particularly from Rhodesia and British 
East Africa, where there is great activity in Pis6-building, 
and where there is no " close season " such as our winter 
imposes upon us here. 

It is instructive also to note that great interest in Pis6- 
building has been aroused in Canada and in Scandinavia, 
the two countries that we were wont to associate particu- 
larly with timber-building. 

From both I have received a number of letters com- 
plaining of "the lumber shortage," and discussing the 
advantages of Pis6 as compared with their traditional 

If these great timber countries are themselves feeling the 
pinch, the advocates of wooden houses for England may 
find that they are not merely barking up the wrong tree, 
but up a tree that is not even there. 

The timber famine is,, in any case, a calamity to any- 
one dependent on building, that is to everyone, for even 
a Pis€ house must still have a roof and floors and joinery. 

But to invoke the timber house as our salvation under 
existing conditions seems to be singularly perverse and un- 
helpful. Pis^, at all events, seems to offer us a more 
promising field for exploration than most of the other 
heterodox methods of construction that have been 
suggested, too often upon credentials that will 6ot bear 
any but the most cursory scrutiny. 

Pis^, even now, is still in its experimental infancy. 

It has yet to prove itself in the fields of National Hous- 
ing and of competitive commercial building schemes on a 
large scale. 

Lastly, Pis^ does not claim to solve the housing problem. 
There is no solution luiless, by some miracle, the present pur- 
chasing power of the sovereign appreciates by 200 per cent. 

Clough Willums-Ellis. 

^^, South Eaton Placb^ 
London. S.W.i, 

May X920. 

^ See Appendix IV. 

Can tents 






^OB ••••••••• 33 




CHALK •.♦•♦.., 107 



INDEX 139 





SALTERTON, DEVON • . . . FfOfUispiece 
























Illustrations 9 
















FRAMING THE ROOF ........ 95 













" If all available brickworks were to produce 


2,800,000,000." — (See Report by Committee appointed 
by Ministry of Reconstruction to consider the post-war 
position of building.) 

The first year's programme of working-class housing 
alone calls for at least 6,000,000,000 bricks. That is 
to say, unless wall materials other than brick are freely 
used, we shall fall alarmingly short of what the popu- 
lation of Great Britain needs in bare accommodation, 
and all building and engineering projects whatsoever 
other than housing must be postponed indefinitely. 


The country districts of England and wales are 
unsurpassed for variety and beauty of char- 
acter, and it would be nothing less than a 
national misfortune if the increased development 
of small holdings were to result in the erection 
of buildings unsuited to their environment and 
UGLY IN APPEARANCE.**— (£:;ir/rac/ from the report sub- 
mitted by the Departmental Committee appointed to 
inquire as to Buildings for Small Holdings, 191 3.) 


• « • • 

• • • • 

••••• •• , 

• •• •• ••••!•• 

• ,• • •••• •.••!»!i*» 


The country is faced by a dilemma probably greater and 
more pdgnant than any with which it has hitherto had to 
deal. It needs, and needs at once, a million new houses, 
and it has not only utterly inadequate stores of material 
with which to build them, but has not even the plant by 
which that material can be rapidly created. There is not 
merely a shortage, but an actual famine everywhere as 
regards the things out of which houses are made. Bricks 
are wanted by the ten thousand million, but there are - 
practically no bricks in sight. All that the brickyards of " 
the United Kingdom can do, working all day and every 
day, is to turn out something like four thousand million 
a year. But to those who want houses at once, what is 
the use of a promise of bricks in fivfe years' time ? To tell 
them to turn to the stone quarries is a mere derision. Let 
alone the cost of work and of transport, it is only in a 
few favoured places that the rocks will give us what we 
want, Needless to say we are short, too, of lime and cement, 
and probably shall be shorter. No coal, no quicklime, and 
No coal, no cement, and as things look now, it is going to be 
a case, if not of no coal, at any rate of much less coal. 
Even worse is the shortage in timber — the material hitherto 
deemed essential for the making of roofs, doors, windows and 
floors. Raw timber is hardly obtainable, and seasoned 
timber does not exist. The same story has to be told about 
tiles, slates, corrugated iron, and every other form of 
*' legitimate " roofing substance. There are none to be had. 


• • * » • • • 

• • • - 

12 Introduction 

In this dread predicament what are we to do as a 
nation ? What we must not do is at any rate quite clear. 
We must not lie down in the high road of civilisation and 
cry out that we are ruined or betrayed, or that the world 
is too hard for us, and that we must give up the task of 
living in houses. Whether we like it or not we have got 
to do something about the housing question, and we have 
got to do it at once, and there is an end. Translated into 
terms of action, this means that as we have not got enough 
of the old forms of material we must turn to others and 
learn how to house ourselves with materials such as we have 
not used before. Once again necessity must be the mother 
of invention, or rather, of invention and revival, for in any- 
thing so old and universal as the housing problem it is 
too late to be ambitious. Here we always find that there 
has been an ancient Assyrian or Egj^tian or a primitive 
man in front of us. 

It is the object of the present book to attack part of 
the problem of how to build without bricks, and indeed 
without mortar, and equally important, as far as possible 
without the vast cost of transporting the heavy material 
of the house from one q,uarter of England to another. 
That is my apology for introducing to the public a work 
dealing with what I can hear old-fashioned master-builders 
describing as the " bastard " forms of construction. One 
of these is Pis6 de terre, the old system of building with 
walls formed of rammed or compressed earth : a system 
which was once known throughout Europe and of which 
the primitive tribesmen of Arizona and New Mexico knew 
the secret. Down to our own day it has been practised 
with wonderful success in the Valley of the Rhdne. Then 
come our own cob, once the cottage material par excellence 
of Devonshire and the West of England, our system of 
building with plain clay blocks, a plan indigenous in the 
Eastern counties, and again the use of chalk and chalk 

The Search for Cheap Material 13 

l?lSt D£ Terre 

For me Rs6 de terre, ever since I heard of it, has offered 
special attractions. It, and it alone providcis, or if one must 
be cautious, appears to provide the way^ to turn an old 
dream of mine and of many other people into a reality. 
My connection with the problem of housing, and especially 
of rural housing, i.e. cottage housing, now nearly a quarter 
of a century old, has been on the side of cheap material. 
Rightly or wrongly (I know that many great experts in 
building matters think quite wrongly), I have had the 
simpUcity to beUeve that if you are to get cheap housing 
you must get it by the use of cheap material. It has 
always seemed to me that there is no other way. What 
more natural than first to ask why building material was 
so dear, and then what was the cause of its deamess ? I 
found it in the fact that bricks are very expensive things 
to make, that stones are very expensive things to quarry^ 
that cements are very expensive things to manufacture, 
and worst of aU, that all these things are very heavy and 
very expensive to drag about the country, and to " dump " 
on the site in some lonely situation where cottages or a 
small-holder's house and outbuildings are, to use the 
conventional phrase, " urgently demanded." Therefore, 
to the imf eigned amusement, nay, contempt of all my 
architectural friends, I spent a great deal of my leisure 
in the years before the war in racking my brains in the search 
for cheap material. My deep desire was to find something 
in the earth out of which walls coiild be made. My ideal 
was a man or group of men with spades and pickaxes coming 
upon the land and creating the walls of a house out of what 
they found there. I wanted my house, my cottage in 
" Cloud-Cuckoo Land," to rise like the lark from the 
furrows. But I was at once dissuaded from my purpose 
by cautious and scientific persons. The chemists, if they 
did not scoff like the architects, were visibly pertmrbed. 

14 Introduction 


" Your dream is impossible," they said. " Nature abhors 
it as much as she used to be supposed to abhor a vacuum. 
If your soil is clay, and you can afford the time and cost 
of erecting kilns, and bringing coal to the spot to make 
the bricks, you can no doubt turn the earth on the spot 
into a house, but even then you had far better buy them 
of those that sell. Your dream of having some chemical 
which will mix with the earth and turn it into a kind of 
stone, is the merest delusion. It is the nature of the 
earth to kill anything in the way of cement that is mixed 
with it. For example, even a little earth will kill concrete 
or mortar. Unless you wash your sand most carefully, 
and free it from all earth stain, you will ruin your concrete 
blocks." I appeared to be literally " up against " a brick 
wall. It was that or nothing. And then, and when things 
seemed at their very worst, a kind correspondent of The 
Spectator showed me a way of escape. I felt like a man 
lost in undergroimd passages who suddenly sees a tiny 
square of light and knows that it means the way out. 
Somebody wrote, from South Africa I think, asking why 
I didn't find the thing I wanted in Pis6 de terre, much 
used in Australia, and occasionally in Cape Colony. Then 
came a rush of enlightenment. People who had seen 
and even lived in such houses wrote to The Spectator, and 
the world indeed for the moment seemed alive with Pis6 
de terre. I was even lent the " Farmer's Handbook " of 
New South Wales, in which the State Government provides 
settlers with an elaborate description of how to build in 
Pis6, and how to make the necessary shuttering for doing 
so. It was then, too, that I began to hear of the seven- 
teenth and eighteenth-century buildings of Pis6 in the 
Rhone Valley. In fact, everybody but I seemed to know 
all there was to be known about Pis6 de terre. For the 
moment indeed, the situation seemed like that described 
in- Punch's famous picture of the young lady and the 
German professor. " What is Volapuk?" asks the young 

Experiments with ^^ Pise^^ 15 

lady. *' Ze universal language," says the professor. 
''Where is it spoken?'' "No vairs." Pis6 deterre 
appeared to be the universal system of building, but as 
far as I could make out, it was practised " no vairs," or 
at any rate not in Europe. 


I had got as far as the position described above, when 
down swept the war upon Europe, and everything had to 
be postponed in favour of the immediate need of filling the 
ranks of the nation's army and teaching the men how to 
fight our enemies. As the war went on, however, the 
demand for rapid, cheap, and temporary building became 
very great, and I felt I should be justified in trjmig some 
experiments with Pis6 de terre, even in spite of the diffi- 
culty of obtaining labour, 

I think I can best illustrate the nature of Pis^ and what 
it can do, and I beUeve will do, if I shortly recount in 
chronological order these htmible pioneer efforts. 

In the summer of 1915 I found that it was necessary in 
the interests of the hospital established in my house to 
find a place in which to store apples, for the men in blue 
consumed them in incredible quantities. I thought I 
would try Pis6. Accordingly, I had some shuttering made 
on the Australian model — not splendid scientific shuttering 
such as is described in the body of this work, but still shutter- 
ing quite sufficient for the purpose. With great rapidity 
a Uttle fruit-house was put up, roofed with boards, and 
covered with blocks of compressed peat in order to make 
a roof which would be both vermin-proof and also keep 
out the heat and the frost. In my ignorance and my 
hurry, I now find that I violated every soimd rule of Pis6 
construction. I built the walls during a week of rain, 
when the earth was wet, which was a great mistake ; and 
I did not clear out the stones, which was another error 
that prevented the walls from being homogeneous. Worst 

1 6 Introduction 

of all, as soon as the walls were built (and very pretty walls 
they were, looking something like soft brown marble), I 
painted them over with tar, which of course would not 
enter the wet wall, but only made a skin, which in a few 
months peeled ofi exactly like the bark oS a plane tree. 
Yet in spite of this ignorant mishandling of my material, 
the little fruit-house is still standing and sheltered till 
January the few apples Nature allowed us to gather last 
autumn. It looks disreputable, but there has been no 
structiural collapse, nor will there be. 

No sooner was the fruit-house finished than I was met 
by the demand c^ my wife, the commandant of the hospital, 
to add to my house a patients' dining-^room, which would 
be bright, dry, airy, warm, and comfortable, and be large 
enough for forty men to have their meals in, and to use as 
a sitting-room during the rest of the day. The local builder 
said that it was impossible to make a wooden addition, for 
there was no wood to be prociured, or to build in bricks, 
since my house stands 600 ft. above the sea on an isolated 
chalk down. Croesus would have f oimd it difficult at that 
time to build on my site, and for the ordinary economic 
man — "L'homme k quarantes 6cus" — ^it was quite im- 
possible. But the room had got to be built, for the men 
were there, and built at once, since the out-of-door life of 
July and August could not continue. There was nothing 
to do but to fall back upon Pis^. I decided to be ambitious 
and to experiment, not merely in Pis^ de terre, but in 
what I then thought — and perhaps rightly — was a new 
form of Pis6, i.e. Pis6 de craie or compressed chalk. My 
shuttering therefore was put up. A hole not very far off 
was dug in the earth, the chalk which was almost at the 
surface was quarried out, and we began to build the wall, 
candid and contemptuous friends telling us of course that 
the chalk wall would never stand the frosts in so exposed 
a position, and that the wall, if made, would certainly 
explode 1 Everyone worked at that wall; the nursing 

Rammed Chalk,^ ^^ Pisi de Crate** 17 

staff, the coachman, an occasional visitor, a schoolboy, a 
couple of boy scouts, members of the National Reserve 
who were guarding a "vulnerable point" close by, and 
even some of the patients. Patients as a rule will endure 
any toil with the utmost good temper if it is for the pur- 
poses of sport. If the task is useful it does not interest 
them. Still, a wall which might explode offered a certain 
attraction. We worked with more zeal than discretion, 
but happily I had it in my mind that homogeneity was the 
essential, and therefore the hard nuggets of chalk as they 
were thrown into the shuttering to be compressed by the 
ranmiers were first chopped up with spades, much as one 
minces meat. The wall had no foundations. In Pis6 
you can make your foundations, so to speak, as you go, 
through the simple process of ramming. Anjn/^ray, and to 
cut a long story short, the wall was made, was able to 
receive the roof, for which happily the local builder found 
some material, and not only did the wall stand, but showed 
a very creditable e!xterior. Its weight was of course enor- 
mous, for there were some twenty tons of chalk put into 
it. In spite of the irregularity of the labour it did not 
take more than ten or twelve days to build. To prevent 
the wet and frost getting into it, I painted the main front 
with a patent liquid material for rendering walls damp- 
proof. The Chalk Pis6 wall not only served its purpose, 
but served it very well. The room proved extraordinarily 
warm and comfortable, largely owing no doubt to the fact 
of a soUd, very dry, i8-in. wall on the north-east side. 


My next venture was in response ta an urgent appeal from 
a farm tenant to build him a waggon house. The resiilt is 
seen in the accompanjdng illustration. This building, about 
40 ft. by 30 ft., was made purely of earth, but some experi- 
ments were tried in the way of introducing hmrdles into the 

1 8 Introduction 

shuttering in order to afford a surface to wliich plaster 
could easily cling. SuflSce it to say that the plain earth, 
without plaster or any covering, more than justified itself. 
One part of the wall is very much exposed to the weather, 
but it has stood the rains and the frosts of three very bad 
winters without turning a hair. Lovers of the picturesque 
may like to know that it presents a pleasant face of light 
ochre, upon which a pale green efflorescence of lichen 
has appeared of late. Anyway, the frost has not touched it. 


Next I made some experiments in chalk farmyard walls. 
Unfortunately, however, one of these, which was not made 
homogeneous by chalk mincing, i.e. in which the nuggets 
of chalk were hot properly broken up, got the wet into it, 
and true to the candid friend's prophecy did literally 
explode in the big frost of 1917-18. Another very 
pretty chalk wall is, however, standing to this day. But 
though Chalk Pis6 will, I think, do well if properly made 
and properly protected, it is somewhat of a doubtful material 
for anything except a building with a good overlay of 
roof. Another structure put up by me was a largish 
gardener's potting shed. This was built purely of earth, 
and in dry weather. When the walls were perfectly dry, 
the local road authorities kindly came with their tar spray 
and sprayed it with hot tar, with most excellent results. 
The hot tar really entered instead of merely making a 
skin, with the result that the external waUs thus treated 
resembled a section of tarred road stood up on end. 

I may add tiiat I lent my Pis6 shuttering to a Guildford 
Volunteer Battalion, who in a ten-hour day, or rather, two 
da}^ of five hours each, built an excellent hut about 20 ft. 
square and 10 ft. high, and thus showed that a platoon 
might house themselves with Pis6 in a day, provided they 
had roofing material ready. This building had subsequently 

PisB Waggon-house at Nkwlands Corner. 
An experiment in rendering. 

The Newlands Waggon- house. 

Thb beginning of a Pise Frdit-housb. 

Pisi in Moulds 19 

to be destroyed, because the ground on which it stood was 
wanted for another purpose. When it was knocked down 
the house-breakers were astonished at the strength and 
tenacity of the walls. Yet the earth out of which they 
were made Was particularly bad — as one of the volunteers 
expressed it, not earth, but merely leaf-mould and horse- 
manure. The site had, as a matter of fact, been a suburban 
garden for at least two hundred years. 

Before I leave the record of these terrestrial adventures 
I may note that in the early stages I received a great deal 
of help and encouragement from General Sir Robert Scott- 
Moncrieff. He was indeed so much struck by them that 
he drew up a series of instructions for walls of Pis6 work 
which were issued to all engineer companies at the front 
in case they nwght have oppofkmities for experimenting. 
These instructions were based upon the AustraUan book 
and embodied the very simple form of shuttering there 
recommended. The diagram that accompanied them is 
reproduced in the Appendix to the present volume. 


Pis]fi IN Moulds 

There is one thing more to be said about R36. I believe 
that a useful development of the system may be found in 
the plan of ramming earth into moiilds and making earth 
blocks, something like concrete blocks. Moulds erf this 
kind are easy to make and are specially suitable when the 
soil is somewhat clayey in its nature. They have the 
advantage of being much cheaper than shuttering, and of 
being capable of being handled by one man without 
assistance. With a strong wooden mould and a good 
rammer a small-holder may easily build his own pigsty, his 

20 Introduction 

own chicken house, and all the small outbuildings he 
requires, if not indeed add an extra room to his house. 
I am at present experimenting with these blocks and 
only yesterday had the pleasure of seeing a sergeant 
(R.A.M.C.), discharged through ill-health and now trying 
to turn himself into a small-holder, building a pigsty with 
the help of one of my moulds. 


Apropos of the elusive universality and yet non-exist- 
ence of Pis^ work, the following personal anecdote or foot- 
note to compressed earth may amuse my readers. Happen- 
ing to be sleeping in a bedroom at Brooks's Club in 1916, I 
noticed a charming Regency bookcase full of old books. 
Among them was a copy of a Cydopadia of 1819. I thought 
it would be amusing to see whether there was any mention 
of Pis£ de terre. What was my astonishment to find 
that what I thought was my own special and peculiar 
hobby and discovery was treated therein at very great 
length and with very great ability, but treated not in the 
least as anything new or wonderful, but instead as *' this 
well-known and greatly appreciated system of building, 
etc., etc." To complete the irony of the situation the 
fact was mentioned that a Mr. HoU^d had lately sent 
to the Board of Agriciilture a memorandum as to how to 
put up houses and farm-buildings in this form of construc- 
tion. My hair rose on my head, for I had Just com- 
mitted a similar official indiscretion myself, and had been 
bombarding appropriate authorities with what I thought 
must be a complete novelty. Truly one can never 
be first . or do anything new. It is always " in the 
Files," as Mr. Kipling says. Even in our most original 
moments we only keep on feebly imitating somebody else. 
The claim to originality is nothing but a muddy mixture 

Coh and Chalky 21 

of pride and ignorance* What did, however, somewhat 
amaze me was the cahn statement of the Cychpadia that 
this sj^tem of building was now well known in the counties 
of — and then came the names of practically all the bounties 
of Southern England. And yet I had been keenly on 
the look-out for such buildings for several years. The 
cynic will say that they had all fallen down. That only 
shows the weakness of the cynic's point of view. The 
truth is they are often concealed under various disguises of 
plaster, paint, and weather tiles. Few people know what 
their own walls are really made of till they try to cut a 
new opening for a door or a window in them. 

Cob and Chalk 

t)f Cob I know little by actual experiment. It is fully 
dealt with in the body of this work, and readers will find 
that it is a kind of mud or clay concrete reinforced with 
straw. It is therefore [totally and absolutely different from 
Pis6. One is wet, the other dry. 

All that need be said about chalk is said by the author 
of the present book. 


A Postscript 

In the body of this work mention is made of a very success- 
ful experiment in Pis6 de terre made by the officials of a 
Rhodesian mining company; the outcome, I am proud 
to think, of my pre-war advocacy of Pisfi in The Spectator. 
No sooner had my introduction been finished than there 
came by way of postscript an exceedingly interesting series 
of photogra:phs, ^nt to me by Mr. Pickstone, a gentleman 
very well known in South Africa for his fruit gardens, his 

22 Introduction 

peaches, and his apricots* On the strength of what he 
had read in The Spectator, Mr. Pickstone lately undertook to 
build a station building and station-master's house for the 
railway station at Simondium in the Drakenstein Valley, 
a place which during the sununer is noted for its great heat. 
In the January number of the South African Railways and 
Harbours Magazine, Mr. Pickstone gives a detailed account 
of his bold and successfid experiment and illustrates it by 
a reproduction of some of his photographs. Here is his 
own account of what he did. 

" It must have been about eighteen months ago that 
the railway administration decided to promote Simondium 
Sidizig to the dignity of a station. As a siding, it had 
alws^ys been a busy place in the fruit season, during which 
time a permanent checker had for some years been kept 
quite busy, his accommodation being a couple of small 
tin shanties, and he had been accustomed to board out 
where he could. Now we were to have a ' pukka ' station- 
master and, presumably, suitable premises. The depart- 
ment quickly got to work and the station-master's house 
arrived. It was what one might call a second-hand, or 
even a third- or fourth-hand one, consisting of the inevit- 
able sheets of galvanised iron and the ever-essential Oregon 
and Swedish timber. Our new station-master also shortly 
afterwards arrived, and turned out to be a married man 
with a wife and four children. The station-master was not 
a grouser, but during the hot summer — and it is terribly 
hot in the Drakenstein Valley during that time of the year 
— ^he complained to me that it was ahnost impossible to 
hold on, owing to the conditions under which he and his 
family had to live. It was just about this time that I saw 
in The Spectator a series of articles strongly advocating 
' Pis6 de terre ' construction for buildings of all kinds ; 
especially was it recommended as a war-time expedient 
for rapid and economical construction for barracks and 

a •! 

s ? 

The Discovery of the Old 23 

hospitals, and, indeed, it was strongly recommended by 
Mr. St. Loe Strachey, the editor, for all sorts of general 
building and military purposes. It is a curious fact, which 
many readers could verify, that frequently one lives one's 
life under certain conditions, and in reality remains abso- 
lutely bUnd to their presence and potentialities. Here 
was I, living in a country where some of the most beautiful 
old homesteads are on the principle of the ' Pis6 de terre ' 
construction, and a large proportion of the older farm 
buildings in this district also built of similar material, 
with the aldditional pleasing accompaniment of beautiful 
beams, ceilings and floors made of colonial pine — one may 
advisedly add, the despised colonial pine. Some of these 
buildings have stood the wear and use of close on a century, 
and are still an object of joy to those privileged to have 
an eye to see. Here Uved I, as I say, blind to its poten- 
tialities for to-day, although it had been clearly appreciated 
and carried out with the most charming and solid results 
by our great-grandfathers in the old slave-labour days." 

The supervising architect, Mr. Kendall, who was re- 
sponsible for carrying out the work to the admirable design 
of Mr. Herbert Baker, gives the following description of 
the way the work was actually executed, which contains 
several very useful hints : 

" The construction of walls determined upon was that 
known as ' Pis6 de terre,' consisting of earth walls some 
18 in. to 24 in. thick, which owe their solidity to a simple 
process of ramming between wooden casings previously 
placed in position on both sides. These walls are built 
in stages of some 3 ft. in height, the wood casing being 
raised at intervals as required. The frames for doors and 
windows are placed in position at the right time, and 
anchored into the walls by means of long hoop iron ties. 
These walls, when completed, give a surface almost as 

24 Introduction 

hard as burnt brick, but the external angles present a 
slight point of weakness, as from their exposure they would 
be naturally inclined to chip away in cases of rough usage. 
In order to overcome this it was arranged that irregular 
brick quoins should be embedded in the angles all the 
way up as the work proceeded. The walls, when completed, 
were then plastered and whitewashed, and present as good 
an appearance as more expensively plastered brickwork. 
As additional security the weather sides were given, prior 
to whitewashing, a coat of hot gas tar direct on the 
plaster, which in all exterior work was Ume plus lo per 
cent, cement. The roofs are of thatch with a fairly good 
overhang at the eaves in order to form a protection for 
the walls." 

On one point, however, we may reassure Mr. Kendall. 
I do not think he need be afraid of his walls being destroyed 
by the weather even if he has no overhang. Part of a 
Pis6 wall in my cart-shed, built in a very exposed situation, 
has no overhang. Further, the wall is not covered by 
cement or any other protective covering. The compressed 
earth was left quite bare, and yet the three worst winters 
of alternating wet and frost known for many years have 
made no impression upon the wall. It seems to be both 
rain-proof and frost-proof. 

I may add that Mr. Pickstone informs me in a letter 
dated February 19th that the Pis6 walls have proved an 
enormous success from the point of view of protection from 
the heat. Whereas in an iron building lined with wood 
the temperature in the hot weather went up to 104 degrees 
Fahrenheit, in the station-master's Pis6 de terre dining- 
room the thermometer registered only 86 degrees. Those who 
have ever lived where such temperatures prevail will note 
the immense advantage gained by the Pis6 walls. Such 
temperatures try strong men and women, and for childr^i 
they are positively death-deahng. With so successful an 

Pisi—a South African Lead 25 

experiment as that at Simondium before my eyes, I am 
begiiming to feel that I may live to correct my view that 
this wiiversal s}rstem of building is practised " no vairs." 


Pliny on Pise de Terre 

Now for something which I have kept as the bonne bouche 
of my earthy story. At the end of my researches and ex- 
periments I found that PUny has got it all in his Natural 
History in six Unes 1 There is no need for more words, 

" Have we not in Africa and in Spain walls of earth, 
known as ' formocean ' walls ? From the fact thai they are 
moulded, rather than built, by enclosing earth within a frame 
of boards, constructed on either side. These walls will last 
for centuries, are proof against rain, wind, and fire, and are 
superior in solidity to any cement. Even at this day Spain 
still holds watch-towers that were erected by Hannibal** — 
Pliny's ''Natural History:* Bk. XXXV, chapter xlviii. 

J. St. Loe Strachey. 



Always necessity has been the mother of invention. The 
war has proved her prolific indeed, and her teeming offspring 
are seen in the multiplicity of war contrivances and the 
bewildering array of substitutes for the once conmion 
things of our daily life. Where necessity has been most 
dire, there invention has unfailingly come to the rescue 
with the most amazing " Ersatz " products to replace 
the vanished originals. 

At any rate it pleases us to attribute the truly astonish- 
ing feats of the Germans in this direction to their greater 
need rather than to any superior ingenuity or enterprise 
on their part. 

That their success was often no more than moderate 
will be readily admitted by anyone who, for instance, has 
made trial of their " Ersatz " cigars or ration coffee. 

Still, need did at least awaken prodigious effort, in- 
genuity, and enterprise — all co-ordinated and concentrated 
on the business of making good a hundred paralysing de- 

In this present matter of National Housing the shortage 
of all the generally recognised building materials as well 
as of actual houses is extreme and grave. Effort, ingenuity, 
and enterprise in overcoming these insufficiencies are as 
urgently and vitally necessary to England in Peace as ever 
they were to Germany in war. Little will be said here of 
the direct and intimate connection between good houses 
and good citizens. 

It is assumed that those who go to the pains of reading 


The House Famine 27 

this book have at least glanced at the Housing Reports, 
and drawn certain disfqnieting conclusions from the 
criminal and vital statistics with which the case for reform 
is reinforced. 

In a recent speech the Registrar-General said : " War 
does not only fill the graves, it also empties the cradles." 
This is no less true of bad and inadequate housing. 

Only the most reckless and thick-skinned of the poorer 
population will adventure on marriage and the bringing 
up of a family whilst the odds against decent and reason- 
able housing persist as at present. 

True, " Housing " is very properly being given con- 
siderable prominence in the press, and scarcely a day passes 
but there appears an article or letter dealing with this 

Usually we are left but little wiser than we were, whilst 
if we chance to know something about the subject, the 
general tone of vague cheerfulness that pervades them 
all fills us with misgiving. 

Nothing is easier or pleasanter or more popular than 
to make airy promises or predictions about the " Homes 
for Happy Human Beings" that, somehow, are to be 
prepared for our rettuned soldiers, and for all those others 
who are housed miserably or not at all. It is very easy 
to predict and promise, but without adequate materials 
performance is not merely difficult, it is impossible. 

There is a world-shortage of almost every manufactured 
or cultivated product; there is also a labour famine, a 
money famine, and a transport famine. 

In this country, closely connected with these deficiencies 
and looming ominously over them all, is, as we have said, 
our house-famine. 

To relieve the last in face of the others, and without 
further aggravating them, is one of the most grave and 
pressing of the many problems that confront us. 

Briefly the problem is this: To provide a maximum of 

a 8 General Survey 

new housing with a minimum expenditure of labour, 
money, transport, and manufactured materials. 

Broadly speaking, so far as rural housing is concerned, 
the solution must be sought through the use of natural 
materials already existing on the site, materials that can 
be worked straight into the fabric of the building, without 
any elaborate or costly conversion, and that by local labour, 

" Pis6 de Terre," " Chalk Compost," and " Cob " are 
three alternative forms of construction, one of which will 
usually fulfil the above conditions in any given situation. 

Despite the somewhat outlandish and high-sounding 
name of the first, it is nothing more thap a very old and 
very simple method of building, recently revived through 
stress of circmnstances. The rude technique has happily 
been kept alive and preserved for us in out-of-the-way 
comers of the Continent and in our Colonies. Wherever 
there is a sufficiency of sunshine to effect the necessary 
dr3dng, there have earth buildings arisen and prospered. 

" Cob " building needs less introduction, as it is still 
well understood and a living craft in several parts of Great 
Britain, notably in Devonshire and South Wales, where 
its merits and advantages have been recognised apparently 
from the earUest times. 

All those indeed who are familiar with this method of 
construction are fully alive to its virtues, and the same 
is true of Pis^-building, both in chalk and earth, and also 
of day-lmnp. 

This book, however, is addressed to those who have in 
the past built only with stone, brick, concrete, timber and 
plaster, etc., and who are only now considering a reversion 
to the more primitive construction here described, through 
the shortage or absolute lack of their former materials. 

It is not so much a question as to whether a Cob or 
Pis6 house is preferable to one of brick or stone or concrete 
— ^though there are many who profess a lively preference 
for the former— but as to whether you will boldly revert to 

§ s 
a a 


Local Materials 29 

these old and well-tried methods of building, or, in the 
absence of the ordinary materials, feebly sit do^ and build 
nothing at all. 

For that will, inevitably, be the alternative for a great 
many private persons. National and Public-Utility Hous- 
ing Schemes and public and industrial works of all sorts 
vdll naturally and properly claim priority in the matter of 
all building materials— and the private individual, so far 
as he can secure such materials at all, vdll only do so at 
a price that is the logical outcome of an unprecedented 
demand and an ominously inadequate supply. 

Timber, tiles, slates, plaster, and ironmongery he must 
still purchase and transport as best he may — but the 
shell of his house, its outer walls at least, could and should 
be raised from the soil of the site itself by the em- 
ployment of the simplest gear and a small amount of 
unskilled local labour. 

So acute indeed is the transport problem, and so small 
is the hope of any substantial improvement in the near 
future, that any expedient tending to ease matters in this 
respect is worthy of the most serious attention. 

The restrictions imposed by high freights will of them- 
selves tend to check the often senseless and uimecessary 
importation of materials foreign to a district, which in the 
past was the despair of architects of the "traditional" 

It was a wasteful practice that had gone far to obliterate 
all,but the most robust traits in the old and very diverse 
local building conventions of rural England. 

Formerly, he who wilfully carried bricks into Merioneth 
or the Cotswolds, or slates into Kent or ragstone-rubble 
into Middlesex, was guilty of no more than foolishness and 
an aesthetic solecism. 

Under present conditions such action should render 
him liable to prosecution and conviction on some such 
count as " Wasting the shrunken resources of his country 

30 General Survey 

in a time of great scarcity, ... in that he did wantonly 
transport material for building the walls of a house by 
rail and road from A to B when suitable and sufficient 
material of another sort and at no higher cost existed, 
and was readily accessible hard by the site at B." 

That indeed is our one chance of salvation, the existence 
and Vise of " the^materials of another sort hard by the site.*' 

These natural materials and their appropriate use in 
building will be considered in the following pages. 

The Lutyens-Scott cottage, of which illustrations are 
given, is designed with a special view to the use of such 
local materials as cob, chalk, and Pis^, though it could also 
be constructed without appreciable modification in stone 
or brick. 

It is thus a model of xmusually universal application, 
providing, too, acconamodation such as is certain to be 
demanded by the new and more educated generation that 
it is the aim of the coxmtry to produce. 




i 1 



§ I. General 

If ever the counties of England recover their bygone loyalty 
to their own materials and their old traditions, then cob- 
building will return to Devon and the West. Cheap bricks, 
cheap transport, and the ignoble rage for fashions from the 
town went far to oust provincial cob from the affections 
of those whom, with their forbears, it had housed so well 
for several centuries. 

Whether the new loyalty be from within, or be imposed 
from without by force of circumstances, matters little. 
What does matter is the fact of its revival. 

For with it will come again the building of cottages that 
are knit intimately to their sites and surroundings as of old, 
cottages consanguineous with the ground they stand on, 
be it brick-earth, rock, or common soU. 

The soil of Devonshire and of many parts of Wessex and 
of Wales serves excellently well for building in cob or 
" clom.'.' ' 

The soil itself suggested the construction, and the men of 
Wessex were quick to take the hint and to act on it. 

The yeomen and small-holders of earUer days were 
commonly builders too, and often built their own homes 
in their own way, yet by the guiding light of local tradition. 

Thus the old Devonian countryman in need of a house 
would set to and build it himself — of stone if that were 
handy and easily worked, of cob if it were not, 

^ Probably, indeed, there ia no county in the kingdom that has not 
considerable areas where the soil would, if tried, prove well adapted for 

3 33 


34 Cob 

No doubf the doors and windows would be made and 
fitted by the village wheelwright ; but the cottager himself 
would thatch or slate the roof as naturally and successfully 
as he built. 

The skill and care with which these versatile amateurs 
built their houses was not always of the highest, and careless 
construction, like other sins, is visited on the children— the 
worse the sooner. 

Thus it is that there are to-day plenty of old cob cottages 
that are both damp and insecure, but to condemn cob 
building in general because certain old builders were careless, 
ignorant, or in competent is to condemnall materials from 
wattle and daub to ferro-concrete in the same breath. 

Cob, being a humble, amenable, and thoroughly accom- 
modating substance, has reaped the inevitable reward of 
good nature in being " put upon " and in being asked to 
stand what is quite beyond its powers of endurance, and 
yet Devon cob houses of Elizabethan date are not 

It is very reasonable in its demands, but two things it 
does require — dry foundations and a good protecting roof. 

To quote an old Devonshire saw.on cob — " Giv'un a gude 
hat and pair of butes an' 'er'l last for ever." 

In many instances the Devonshire leaseholder, usually 
only a " life-lease " holder, built badly and on indifferent 
foundations. He neglected to repair his thatch, with the 
consequence that ruin followed sooner or later. He did not 
always use rough-cast, so that it often happened that by the 
time the lease expired the unfortunate landowner found that 
the cottage fell in — in the literal as well as in the legal 
sense. The lower portions of the walls were hon^-combed 
with rat-holes, the walls bulged out or fissures resulted 
from subsidence, and the dwelling presented that appear* 
ance of squalor and meanness that has led so many to decry 
the mud buildings of Devon as relics of bygone barbarism. 
But if adequate care is bestowed on the construction, there 




The Beauty of Cob 35 

is no reason why cob cottages should not prove at one and 
the same time comfortable "to the inmates and pleasant 
to the eye, and endure for many generations. 

As to their onneliness and longevity, a day's walk in 
Devon, or, failing that, a glance at the printed pictures 
will tell all that need be told. That the beauty of cob 
buildings is not due merely to the irregularities and 
weathering produced by the passage of time is sufficiently 
proved by the photographs of Mr. Gimson's charming 
cob cottage, taken soon after he had finished it. 

The work was done a year or two before the war ; this is 
Mr. Gimson's own description of the manner of its building : 

'' The cob was made of the stiff sand found on the site ; 
this was mixed with water and a great quantity of long 
wheat straw trodden into it. The walls were built 3 ft. 
thick, pared down to 2 ft. 6 in., and were placed on a plinth 
standing 18 in. above the ground floor, and built (rf cobble 
stones found among the sand. The walls were given a 
coat of plaster and a coat of rough-cast, which was gently 
trowelled over to smooth the surface slightly. I believe 
eight men were engaged on the cobwork, some preparing 
the material, and others treading in on to the top of the 
walls. It took them about three months to reach the 
wall plate ; the cost was 65. a cubic yard, exclusive of the 
plasterii^. No centring was used. The Joists rested on 
plates, and above them the walls were reduced to 2 ft. 2 in. 
in thickness to leave the ends of the Joists free. The beams 
also rested on wide plates and the ends were built round 
with stone, leaving space for ventilation. Tile or slate 
lintels were used over all openings. The cost of the whole 
; house was 6\i. a cubic foot. Building with cob is soon 

i . learnt — of the eight men, only one of them had had any 
'I previous experience, and, I believe, he had not built with 

f it for thirty years. This is the only house I have built 

J ' of cob." 

36 Cob 

What is most interesting in this narrative is the work- 
men's lack of experience, which seems to have been no 
hindrance. Anyone who proposes to revive the^use of cob 
may take courage from Mr. Gimson's evidence. The time 
spent in building the walls was reasonable and the cost 
low. It may be guessed that the post-war rise in cost 
will be no greater in proportion, if as great, when compared 
with brickwork. The natural charm of the wall surface 
is enhanced by the crown of thatched roof, modelled with 
a skill which few can brii^ so certainly to their task* as 
Mr. Gimson. 

§ II. Method of Building 

Composition. — Cob is a mixture of shale and day, straw 
and water. Shale is a common and widely distributed 
stratified formation of a slaty nature, and there are few 
types of clay soil that would not serve for cob-making. \ 

The precise relative proportion of the first two ingredients 
varies, depending on their individual peculiarities. 

Local custom as to the composition and preparation of 
the mixture will generally be found to have adjusted 
itself to the pecuUarities of the soil. ^ 

The following extract is from an analyst's report on a 
sample of typical old cob walling : 


*' The material when placed in water fell to pieces. On 
anal3^is, it was found to consist of : 

Per cent. 

Stones (residue on 7 by 7 mesh sieve) . 24*40 

Sand, coarse (residue on 50 by 50 mesh sieve) 1970 

Fine sand (through 50 by 50 mesh sieve) . 32*50 

Clay . 2060 

Straw . . . . . . . . i'25 

Water, etc. . . . . . . i*55 f ^ 



* ' 


^ \ 

Method of Building 37 

"The material is a conglomerate of slaty gravel with a 
very sandy clay, to which mixture a small proportion of 
straw has been added. 

" The clay acts as an agglutinant, and the straw as a rein- 

" Efficient protection from frost and rain would be neces- 
sary before such material could be considered weather- 

(N.B. — Lime is occasionally added to the clay-shale, 
but this is not usual.) 

Mixing. — ^The old method of mixing by hand is as follows : 
A " bed " of clay-shale is formed close to the^all where it 
is to be used, sufficient to do one perch. ' A perch is super- 
ficial measurement described as i6J ft. long, i ft. high, 
and the amoimt of material will vary according to the 
thickness of wall required. Four men usually work together. 
The big stones are picked out. The material is arranged 
in a circular heap about 5 or 6 ft. in diameter. 

Starting at the edge the men turn over the material 
with cob picks, standing and treading on the material all 
the time. One man sprinkles on water, and another 
sprinkles on barley straw from a wisp held under his left 
arm. The heap is then turned over again in the other 
direction, treading continuing all the time. "Twice 
turning" is usually considered sufficient. Straw bands 
may be wrapped puttee-wise around the legs of the men 
to keep them clean, and these are removed at the end of 
the day. 

More rarely the mixing is done in a rough trough, whilst 
a power-driven "pan-mill" has also been tried with 
success ; though one would think that the use of such a 
machine ndght tend to diminish the binding strength of 
the straw submitted to its grinding. 

Building.— Jn building a man stands on the low base- 
Svall, and lajrs the material handed up to him on the cob 


Cob PKit^ 

incks, treading it into position. Thorough treading is 
important, and the heels should be wdl used. The material 
is allowed to project eadi side an inch or so beyond the 
stone base to allow for paring down afterwards. The 
courses are usually about 2 ft. high. The cob should be 

coa COVB9B, OK scAx, ^owmo 

Implements 39 

laid a:Qd trodden in diagonal layers, as shown in the 
diagram : this is to secure proper bonding. It takes from 
two to three weeks for a course to dry, according to the 
weather, and five or six men would be required to build 
the walls of an ordinary cottage. This would not keep 
them continuously employed, however, and they would 
require to have several buUdings in hand at the same time, 
so as to be able to turn from one to the other while the 
courses were drjdng. 

At the completion of a course the comers are plumbed 
up from the stone base below, a line is stretched through 
and the wall is then pared down " plumb " with the " paring 


■* — . 




\xoa " by the man standing on the wall. Sometimes, 
however, the paring down is left until the wall is finished 
and dry. Four men wiU do about four perches per day 
of a wall 2 ft. thick, preparing and laying material. 

The material is rarely laid between timber shuttering as 
in Pis^ work, as the retaining boards tend seriously to 
retard the drying out* y 

Drying.— 1i a course takes from two to three weeks to 

40 Cob 

• - 

dry, it naturally takes a long time for a whole cottage to 
completely dry out. The walls can be built from about 
March to September. The internal fitting, plastering, etc., 
can be done in the winter, but the external rendering must 
not be done for at least a year, perhaps two years, to 
allow the walls to become perfectly dry. 

As unprotected cob is sensitive to frost, especially if not 
thoroughly dried out, it should be given a good external 
rendering as soon as it is really dry, and should in the 
meantime be protected from frost by some temporary 
covering, straw-matting or what not. Also all cob-work 
must be protected from the rain both whilst building and 
when built. 

No artificial methods of drying are at present usual^ 
beyond good fires inside during the winter, though, as 
under such conditions a cob cottage is not usually con- 
sidered fit to live in for several, months after com- 
pletion, some artificial means of drying might be worth 

Foundations and Base. — ^The depth of the excavations 
required for the foundations naturally depends upon the 
character of the site and soil, as also does the spread of 
the footings, if any. 

The base-course wall of brick, stone, or concrete should 
be carried up some 2 ft. or so above ground level. In 
old days this walling was not infrequently built " dry " — 
but good lias lime or cement should be used in all new 

The damp-course too was an unknown refinement to the 
by-gone builders, and the introduction of this one improve- 
ment alone makes the new cob cottage a very different 
dweHing from the old. 

The usual forms of damp-course serve well for cob walls, 
though slates laid butt and broken joint in cement are prob- 
ably the best. 

Thickness of WaUs. — ^The thickness of walls may be any- 

Walls and Roofs 41 

thing you please from 18 in. upwards. There a^e old 
examples a full 3 ft. across, but for an ordinary two- 
storied cottage a thickness of about 2 ft. is general. Eighteen 
inches is certainly the minimum thickness, and would not 
ordinarily be adopted for any but one-storied buildings. 

The first-floor walls are made the same thickness as those 
below, for if they were reduced in width, as is usual in a 
stone building, the extra weight thus thrown on to one 
side of the ground floor walls would tend to make 'them 
bulge, unless quite dry and thoroughly set. 

There are old cob walls in existence fully 30 ft. in height, 
and there is no apparent limit in this direction provided 
they are thick enough. 

The upper layers compress the lower ones, and automati- 
cally render them more dense and stone-hke and fit to 
bear the load imposed above. 

Hipped Roofs. — As a general rule, however, it is found 
expedient to hip back the roof rather than carry it up 
in a tall gable, partly because cob-building at a great 
height above the ground in short and diminishing layers is 
a somewhat tedious process, partly because a hipped roof 
with good eaves is very welcome for the protection that its 
projection affords the walling. 

Masonry and Carpentry. — ^The bonding of cob to stone 
and brick is sometimes liable to leave an open joint that 
will require filling when the cob dries and shrinks. Many 
of the chimneys in old cob houses are of brick or stone, and 
brick and stone jambs are sometimes to be seen in cob 
walls, but they are probably by way of repairs to damaged 
comers. It is considered better to have cob all round, so 
ensuring the uniform settlement of the building. 

The timber built into old cob does not seem to decay. 
The walls are usually so dry, especially when plastered, 
that the wood is well preserved. The straw in the interior 
of old cob walls is often as bright as when put in. The 
straw in cob performs a similar function to hair in plaster. 



Heather has sometimes been used instead of straw with good 

The old practice was for beams, wall plates, joists, etc., 
to be just bedded on the cob, and for the cob to be filled in 


WMLL copnrGs. 

between the joists. In new work, particularly when the use 
of imperfectly seasoned timber is ^unavoidable, it would be 
wise to take the usual precautions as to the proper ventila- 
tion of all " built in " woodwork— especially the ends of 
joists and so forth. Roofs must of course be tied and 
exercise no thrust on walls. The roof plates are sometimes 
tied down by galvanised iron wire. 

Door and window-frames are also fixed to wood blocks 
built into the jambs and to the wood Untels above. The 
frames are sometimes near the outer face of wall, some- 


Protection 43 

times near the inner-face. Where the door-frames are 
on the interior face of a 2 ft. thick wall, a convenient porch 

Other jdnery is fixed to wood pins driven into the cob 
where required. 

Comers are usually of cob, though stone quoins are 
occasionally met with. 

Lintels are usually of wood wdl tailed into the wall 
and resting on a wood pad placed crosswise. 

Protection. — Old buildings that have been neglected are 
often found to be somewhat eroded towards the bottom of 
their walls through the action of rain and frost. 

Protection is less here than higher up under the pro- 
jecting eaves, and the AchiUes' heel of the cob wall is 
undoubtedly its base. 

This vulnerable part, exposed as it is to driven rain, 
back-splash, and the casual kidcs, should be given special 

Where the base is of cob and not of masonry, the tra- 
ditional method is to provide a good deep skirting of pitch 
or tar, or a mixture of both, appfied hot to the face of the 
rendering that should completely cover the exterior of all 
cob work. 

This rendering is usually composed of lime and hair 
mortar, though Portland cement has come into use to 
some extent recently. 

Cement, however, is apt to be rather too " short" and 
brittle, and it does not always hold to the cob walling 
very securely. 

A rendering consisting of an equal mixture of cement 
and lime with three parts of sand adheres well to cob, 
however, and is probably the best coating that can be 
given to it. 

This coating can be colour-washed or lime-whited in 
the usual way. The granular surface of rough rendering 
ot of " slap-dash " on the slightly wavy surface of cob 



walling perhaps gives to whitewash its very highest oppor- 
tunity and charm. 

Certain it is that the old cob cottages of Devon with 
the pearly gleam of their white walls, their heaving bulk 
of thatch and their trim black skirtings, are as gracious and 
as pleasant to the eye as any in all the length and breadth 
of England. 

Within, Ume-and-hair mortar plastered straight on to 
the cob makes an excellent lining. 

Chimneys, — Nowadays, chimnejrs are commonly built 
up in brick or stone, but numerous good examples survive 
of flues and stacks constructed in cob. The insides of 
these are pargeted with lime and cow-dimg in the usual 
way, brickwork being only introduced immediately aroimd 
the fireplaces. 

Rods. — Where the surface rendering of cob-walls has 
been omitted or has been allowed to fall away, an enter- 
prising rat will sometimes do considerable damage by his 

A little powdered glass mixed with the lower strata of 
a wall will discourage any such burrowing, but the best 
preservative for any cob building is a thoroughly good skin 
of rendering, especially if this be reinforced by fine-mesh 
wire-netting secured to the wall. 

Strength. — ^The strength of cob walls is surprisingly 
great so long as they are vertical, and are not subjected to 
undue lateral thrust or tension. 

Beams as large as 12 in. by 12 in. may be seen supported 
by old cob walls, and there is nothing likely to be asked 
of the material in the way of strength to which it cannot 
easily respond. 

Design. — Cob, like every other material, should have a 
certain say in the design of any building in which its use 
is intended. 

The chief desiderata are a plain straightforward plan 
and broadly treated elevations where voids and solids are 





J . m 


< «, fi 

3 is 




Raleigh* s House 45 

m il I II I I 11 I I I ^ I iiM I II I I m il. ■ 

carefully disposed with an eye to getting as large unbroken 
blocks of cob as possible. 

The cracks that are sometimes found in old cob buildings 
are almost entirely attributable to unsuitable design in 
such respects, or to bad foimdations. 

Cob w^ built up in the ordinary way are not very suit- 
able for internal partitions on account of their considerable 
width and the consequent waste of space, though in old 
work cob was sometimes used as a filling for stud and 
lath partitions which were finally plastered over in the 
usual way. 

The Sim-dried clay-limips so much used for walling in 
Suffolk would seem to be admirable for forming the 
partitions in a house of cob. 

Cob work is usually repaired with rubble, stone, or brick. 

New openings are easily cut through cob walls, and 
this fact has occasionally led to the collapse of an old 
building through the zeal for Ugfat and air of some new 
occupier exceeding his caution, and causing him to cut away 
the substance of his walls in cheerful disregard of the laws 
of gravity. ' 

§ III. Conclusion 


Not by any means was cob exclusively the poor man's 
material, and several old homes of this sort still survive 
that are of some consideration. 

Amongst them is Hayes Barton, the birthplace of Sir 
Walter Raleigh. Writing of Raleigh and his home, Mr. 
Charles Bernard says : 

Sir WaUer Raleigh's House. — " He had great affection 
for his boyhood's home — the old manor-house at Hayes 

46 Cob 

Barton where he was bom, and did his best to secure it 
from its then owner. * I will/ he wrote, ' most willingly 
give you whatsoever in your conscience you shall deme it 
worth ... for ye naturall disposition I have to that place, 
being borne in that house, I had rather see myself there 
than anjnvhere else/ But alas! it was not to be, and 
the snug and friendly Tudor homestead passed into other 
hands. The house at Hayes Barton was probably not newly 
built when Raleigh's parents lived there, and it says much 
for the character of cob that the house is as good to-day as 
ever it was; though for all that it has, to use Mr. Eden 
Phillpotts' words, 'been patched and tinkered through 
the centuries,' it 'still endures, complete and sturdy, in 
harmony of old design, with unspdled dignity from a far 
past/ Lady Rosalind Ncnrthcote gives the following descrip- 
tion of the house in her Devon, She writes : ' In front of 
the garden, a swirUng stream crosses a strip of green ; and^ 
in the garden, at the right time, one may see the bees busy 
among golden-powdered clusters of cand3i:uft, and dark 
red gill3^owers, and a few flame rose-coloured tulips, proud 
and erect. The house is very picturesque; it has cob 
walls and a thatched roof, and is built in the shape of the 
letter E ; a wing projects at either end, and in the middle 
the porch juts out slightly. The two wings are gabled; 
there is a small gable over the porch and two dormer 
ones over the windows at each side of it, the windows 
having lattice Ughts and narrow muUions. Dark carved 
beams above them show up well against the cream- 
coloured walls. The heavy door is closely studded with 
nails, and over it fall the delicate spraj^ and lilac 
" butterfly " blossoms of wistaria/ " 

Reed Thatch. — In recent years slates or tiles have replaced 
thatch ior the roofing of cob buildings and walls, owing 
to the cost of reed (the local name for the straw Irom 

Cbiumgs of Modelled Plaster from old Cob Houses in Dbvom. 

Mr. Baring-Gould 47 

wbich the grain has been hand-threshed by flail to prevent 
the straw being broken), and the difficulty of getting good 
thatchers. The opinion is held by many that the lasting 
quality of thatch has deteriorated since the practice of 
liming th^ comland has unfortunately been given up. 

Primitive Methods. — Formerly the ground floors of cob 
cottages were all cobbled, but these have, generally speaking, 
beai replaced by lime, ash, or cement floors. The cob 
builders of past generations apparently made no use of the 
square, pltmib-line, or level. No laths were used for the 
walls, which were plastered within ; outside, rough-cast cmt 
" slap-dash " was laid on. 

Mr. Baring-Gould's Testimony. — Mr. S. Baring-Gould, in 
his Book of the West, writing on the subject says : " No 
house can be considered more warm and cosy than that 
built of cob, eq)ecially when thatched. It is warm in 
winter and cool in summer, and I have known labourers 
bitterly bewail their fate in being transferred from an 
(Ad fifteenth or sixteenth century cob cottage into a newly- 
built stone edifice of the most approved style, as they 
said it was like going out of warm life into a cold grave/' 


The following paragraph, taken from C. B. Allen's Cottage- 
Building, is of interest : 

" The cob walls of Devonshire have been known to last 
above a century without requiring the slightest repair, 
and the Rev. W. Elicombe, who has himself built several 
houses of two stories with cob walls, says that he was 
born in a cob-wall parsonage built in the reign of Elizabeth, 
or sc»ttewhat earlier, and that it had to be taken down to 
be rebuilt only in the year 1831." 

Fruit Walls. — Again quoting Mr. Baring-Gould : " Cob 
walls for garden fruit are incomparable. They retain 
the warmth of the sun and give it out through the night. 

48 Cob 

and when protected on top by slates, tiles, or thatch, 
will last for centuries." It will be seen that the disadvan- 
tages of cob buildings are solely due to faults of construction, 
and not to any inherent defect in properly made cob as 
a material, and that the construction of cottages, farm 
buildings, and garden walls is well within the compass of 
an averagely intelligent workman. 

It is not intended to argue that the cob cottage could 
be advantageously built in every coimty, but only that 
where it has been used and liked for centuries, a wise 
building policy would encourage its continuance. The 
materials are at hand, and the peculation ready to welcome 
this form of dwdling-place. 

An OH Authority. — An old writer treating of cottage- 
building thus delivers himself : F 

" A Bill for inclosing the waste lands of the kingdom 
having been introduced into the House of Commons, under 
the auspices of the Board of Agriculture, and as so beneficial 
a Bill cannot fail, sooner or later, to pass into a law, and as 
in consequence thereof, many small houses must necessarily 
be built, suited to small estates issuing out of allotments 
of such wastes, we have been induced to submit to the 
consideration of the Board three plans of such small houses 
to be built of different spedes of materials. 

"The first is with mud walls, composed of soft mire and 
straw, well trodden together, and which, by degrees, is 
laid on, stratimi-super-stratum, to the height required ; a 
species of building not uncommon for cottages, and even 
for better houses, bams, etc., in the western and some 
other parts of the kingdom. It is the cheapest habitation 
that we can construct and is also very dry and comfortable." 

And again : 

" Walls of mud, or of compressed earth, are still more 


Old Cob Lore At9 

economical than those of timber, and if they were raised 
on brick or stone fomidations, the height of a foot or i8 in. 
above the ground, or above the highest point at which 
dung or moist straw was ever Ukely to be placed against 
them, their durabihty would be equal to that of marble, 
if properly constructed and kept perfectly dry. The cob 
walls of Devonshire, which are formed of clay and straw 
trodden together by oxen, have been known to last above 
a century without requiring the slightest repair ; and we 
think that there are many farmers, especially in America 
and Australia, who if they knew how easily walls of this 
description could be built, would often avail themselves 
of them for various agricultural purposes. 

"The soUdity of cob walls depends much upon their not 
being hurried in the process of making them, for if hurried, 
the walls will surely be crippled, that is, they will swag 
or swerve from the perpendicular. It is usual to -pare 
down the sides of each successive rise before another is 
added to it. The instrument used' for this purpose is like 
a baker^s peel (a kind of wooden shovel for taking the 
bread out of the oven), but the cob-parer is made of iron. 
The Untels of the doors and windows and of the cupboards 
and other recesses are put in as the work advances (allow- 
ance being made for their settling), bedding them on cross 
pieces, and the walls being carried up solid. The respective 
openings are cut out after the work is well settled. In 
Devonshire the builders of cob-wall houses like to begin 
their work when the birds begin to build their nests, in 
order that there may be time to cover in the shell of the 
building before winter. The outer walls are plastered the 
following spring. Should the work be overtaken by winter 
before the roof is on, it is usual to put a temporary covering 
of thatch upon tiie walls, to protect them from the frost." 

Afr. Fulford*s Evidence. — Mr. Fulford, of Great Fulford, 
near Exeter, whose own village and estate can show as 


~- ' — • -' •~- '-' ' ^-»-.--«-- - ■-^— — - ■ ..- -■».-. — .-— ^»- -T- 

jp Cob 

many good examples of old cob work as any place in Devon, 
writes as follows : 

Cost. — " It is not possible to give a close estimate of 
what would now be the comparative cost of a building in 
cob, stone, or brick, as this must depend upon the exact 
locaUty of the site. It may, however, be of assistance if 
I quote particulars of the relative cost of cob and stone 
building in Devon in the year 1808 when cob was in commoir 
use. The stonework -rdferred to was rough rubWe, and 
not with square or dressed blocks. It must be borne in 
mind that up to that date practically all material, stone, 
lime, etc., was carried on horses' backs. Wheeled carts 
which began to creep in about the beginning of 1800, were 
not in general use until twenty or thirty years later. As a 
boy I knew a farmer who remembered the first wheeled 
cart coming to Dunsford. In 1838 the Rector of Bridford 
(the ' Christowell ' of Blackmore's novel) recorded the fact 
that in 1818 there was cmly one cart in the parish and it 
was scarcely used twice a year. In i8a8 the price of 
building varied according to the district. In the northern 
part of the county the common price of stonework, includ- 
ing the value of three quarts of cider or beer daily, was 
from 22d. to 24^. the perch (i6| ft.), 22 in. in width and 
I ft. in height. Including all expenses of quanying and 
carriage of materials, stonework worked out at from 55. 
to 6s. per perch running measure, and cob estimated in 
like manner at about 3$. 6i. Masons when not employed 
by the piece received 2s. per day, and allowance of beer or 
cider. In the Dunstone ^strict (the day shales from which 
make the best cob) masonwork was i8i. per rope of 20 ft. 
in length, 18 in. thick, and i ft. high, stone and sdl materials 
found and placed on the spot ; cob work of the same measure 
was 14^. In the South Hams district masonwork cost 
2s. 6i., and cob 2$. per perch of 18 ft. in length, 2 ft. thick, 
and I ft. high." 

Mr. Fulford^s Evidence 51 

Use ^Shuttering. — " In those parts of the red l^nd where 
Dunstone shillot or day shale is not available, the red day 
was mixed with small stones or gravd, and frequently the 
cob was laid and trodden down between side boards as 
used in building concrete walls. Three cartloads of day 
built a perch and a half of wall 20 in. wide and i ft. deep. 
Eight bundles of barley straw, equal to one pack-horse load, 
were mixed and tempered with nine cartloads of clay." 

Roofing. — "Thatching in 1808 cost 8s. per square of 
10 ft. ; 100 sheaves of wheat-straw reed, weighing 25 lb. 
each, were suffident for one square. Thatching, however, 
is not, as many suppose, indispensable as a roofing for cob 
buildings ; slate found in many parts of Devon was fre- 
quently used, and of late years Welsh and Ddabole slates, 
tiles, and unfortunately, from the picturesque point of 
view, corrugated iron, have to a large extent supplanted 

A Protective Wash. — "Vancouver, in Ms report on the 
Survey of Devon for the Board of Agriculture in 1808, 
gave the following recipe, which he described as a preserv- 
ing and highly ornamental wash for rough-cast that was 
then getting into common use : ' Four parts of pounded 
lime, three of sand, two of pQunded wood ashes, and onr 
of scoria of iron; mixed well together and made suffidently 
fluid to be applied with a brush. When dry it gives the 
appearance of new Portland stone, and affords an excellent 
protection against the penetrating force of the south- 
westerly storms/ 

Rendering. — " For the rough-weather sides of cob build- 
ings I have found cement and sand, finished with a rough 
surface, satisfactory, and far more durable than ordinary 
lime and gravd rough cast. For interior cob walls, laths 
are not necessary. The old plastering was frequently laid 
on too thick, pf late years I have used with excellent 
results granite silicon plaster for ceilings and walls. This 
requires no hair, and is easily applied. 

5^ Cob 

The Cob Tradition. — " Cob-making was, like many other 
local trades, carried on in some families from generation 
to generation and developed by them into an art, but apart 
from these specialists, practically every village mason 
and his labourers built as much with cob as they did with 
stone. There are men still left in various parts of the 
county who have made cob, and it would, in my opinion, 
be of advantage if demonstrations could be given by them 
to discharged sailors and soldiers who are anxious to take 
up work on the land." 

Training of ex-Soldiers. — " In cob-building, as in many 
other arts and crafts, a little showing is of far greater 
help to the novice than any amoimt of text-book instruc- 
tion. The knowledge and experience that these men would 
gain from being shown, and better still, assisting an expert 
in making cob, would be of material advantage in the 
development of the county scheme promoted by the Central 
Land Association for the establishment of ex-Service men 
on the land. They could try their 'prentice hands on walls, 
tool-sheds, cart linhays, etc.^ for their own use, and some 
no doubt would develop into expert builders capable 
of constructing walls for dwelling-houses from approved 

1819 Conditions Returned. — " The depletion of our home- 
grown timber supply and the prohibitive cost of practically 
all building material has in effect brought about the con- 
ditions that led our forefathers to utilise suitable material 
that lay nearest to hand, and unless some endeavour is 
made to follow their methods and profit by their example, 
it will be impossible to provide sufficient buildings for the 
necessary equipment of the allotments and small holdings, 
let alone housing accommodation for the workers on the 

There is probably no one who knows more about cob 
than doe& Mr. FuUord — certainly no one who has done 

A Champion of Cob 53 

I r ■! I ■ « ■ I. I I I 

more to promote the revival of cob-building both by precept 
and example. 

Cob is the traditional material of his native place, he has, 
as it were, been brought up on cob — he is familiar with 
both the ancient history and the modem practice of cob- 
building, and in short, he " knows/' 

When a revivalist has knowledge as well as enthusiasm^ 
the grounds of his faith are usually worth smous attention. 







§ L General 

What it is. — "Pis6 de terre" is merely the French for 
rammed earth, ami rammed earth is an exceedingly good 
material for the building of waUs. 

The odd thing is that its very obvious merits should 
have secured it such small attention. 

It is no new-fangled war-time invention brought forth 
by our present necessity, but a very ancient system well 
proved by centuries of trial. 

History. — Pliny gives an excellent account of Pis6-building 
in his Natural History, and Monsieur Gorffon, who pub- 
lished a treatise on this method of construction in 1772, 
states that it was first introduced into France by the 

The following extracts from an old book based oh a 
French original will serve well as an introduction to the 
study of Pis6-building : 

Capabilities. — "An account of a method of building 
strong and durable houses, with no other materials than 
earth ; which has been practised for ages in the province 
of Lyons, though little known in the rest of France, or in 
any other part of Europe. It appeared to be attended with 
so many advantages, that many gentlemen in this country 
who employ their leisure in the study of rural economy 
were induced to make a trial of its efficiency; and the 
result of their experiments has been of such a nature as 


58 Pis^ de Terre 

to make them desire, by all possible means, to extend the 
knowledge and practice of so beneficial an art. 

"The possibility of raising the walls of houses two or 
even three stories high, with earth only, which will sustain 
floors loaded with the heaviest weights, and of building the 
largest manufactories in this manner, may astonish every 
one who has not been an eye-witness of such things." 

Of Pise and its Origin. — " Pis6 is a very simple manual 
operation ; it is merely by compressing earth in moulds or 
cases, that we may arrive at building houses of any size 
or height." 

Locale. — "This art, though at present confined to the 
single province of the Lyonese in France, was known and 
practised at a very early period of antiquity. The Ahh6 
Rozier, in his Journal de Physique, says that he has dis- 
covered some traces of it (Pis6) in Catalonia; so that 
Spain, like France, has a single province in which this 
ancient manner of building has been preserved. The art, 
however, well deserves to be introduced into more general 
use. The cheapness of the materials which it requires, 
and the great saving of time and labour which it admits 
of, must recommend it in all places and on all occasions, 
but the French author says that it will be found particu- 
larly useful in hilly countries, where carriage is diflBicult, 
and sometimes impracticable; and for farm buildings, 
which, as they must be made of considerable extent, are 
usually very expensive, without yielding any return." 

§ II. Method of Builping 

There is an exhaustive article on Pis6 in Vol. XXVII of 
The Cychpadia or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, 
and Literature, published in 1819. The writer, Abraham 
Rees, D.D., F.R.S., F.L.S., draws chiefly on French authori- 
ties and his directions are most detailed and precise. 

Pisi Plant and Implements. 

{Reproduced (rom an old Encyctopidia.) 


• • • ( 

•• ■• • , 

I • • • • 

• • 


• • 

• • • 

. ••• 

Method of Building 59 


Definition. — He introduces his subject tibus : 

" Pisd-building, in Rural Economy, the name of a method 
of building with loamy or other earthy matters, which 
has long been practised with great success, and in a very 
cheap manner, in some departments of France, and which 
is now had recourse to with similar advantage in some 
parts of this country. It has been described, delineated, 
and recommended by Mr. H. Holland in the first volume 
of Communications to the Board of AgrieuUure, and is to be 
managed somewhat in the manner directed below/' 

At great length and with immense detail, the plant, 
the preliminaries, and the process are each seveially 

The pith of the matter is sufficiently given by the follow- 
ing extracts : "" 

SkuUering. — " For the construction of the mould, take 
several planks, each lo ft. long, of light wood, in order 
that the mould may be easy to handle ; deal is the best 
as being least liable to warp. To prevent which the boards 
should be straight, sound, well seasoned, and with as few 
knots as possible. Let them be ploughed and tongued, 
and planed on both sides. Of these planks, fastened 
together with four strong ledges on each side, the mould 
must be made, 2 ft. 9 in. in height ; and two handles should 
be fixed to each side. 

" All the boards and ledges here mentioned must be, after 
they are planed, something more than i in. thick." 

Rammer. — ''The instrument with which the earth is 
rammed into the mould is a tool of the greatest consequence, 
on which the firmness and durability, in short the perfection, 
of the work depends. It is called a pisoir, or rammer; 
and though it may appear very easy to make it, more 
difficulty will be found in the execution than is at first 
apprehended. A better idea of its construction may be 
formed by examining the Plate, in which it is^deUneated^ 

6o Pisd de Terre 

than any words can convey. It should be made of hard 
wood, either ash, oak, beech, wahiut, etc., or what is prefer- 
able, the roots of either of them." 

Method of Working. — " Pis^ contains all the best principles 
of masonry, together with some rules peculiar to itself, 
which are now to be explained. 

'' To begin with the foundation ; this may be made of any 
kind of masonry that is durable, and should be raised to 
the height of 2 ft. above the ground ; which is necessary 
to secure the walls from the moisture of the earth, and the 
splashing of the rain, which will drop from the eaves of 
the roof.^ When these foundation walls are made level, 
and i8 in. thick, mark upon them the distance at which 
the Joists are to be set, for receiving the moulds; those 
distances should be 3 ft. each from centre to centre. Each 
side of the mould being 10 ft. long, will divide into three 
lengths of 3 ft. each, and leave 6 in. at each end, which 
serve to lengthen the mould at the angles of the house and 
are useful for many other purposes. After having set the 
Joists in their places, the masonry must be raised between 
them 6 in. £dgher, that is, to a level with the joists ; there 
will, therefore, altogether be a base of 2\ ft., which in most 
cases will be found more than sufficient to prevent the 
rain, frost, snow, or damp from injming the walls. Rai^e 
the mould immediately on this new masonry, placing it 
over one of the angles of the wall. 

*' A workman should be placed in each of the three divisions 
of the mould, the best workman being placed at the angle. 
He is to direct the work of the other two, and by occasion- 
ally appl3dng a plmnb-rule, to take care that the mould 
does not swerve from its upright position. The labourers 
who dig and prepare the earth must give it in small quan- 
tities to the workmen in the mould, who, after having 

> The introdnctioxi of a damp-course and the provision of gutters 
at the eaves greatly reduce the function of the masonry base in modem 

The Ramming 6i 

spread it with their feet, begin to compress it with the 
rammer. They must only receive at a time so much as 
will cover the bottom of the mould to the thickness of 
3 or 4 in. The first strokes of the rammer should be given 
close to the sides of the mould, but they must be after- 
wards applied to every other part of the surface ; the men 
should then cross their strokes, so that the earth may be 
compressed in every direction. Those who stand next 
to one another in the mould should regulate their stroke 
so as to beat at the same time under the cord, because that 
part cannot be got at without difficulty, and must be 
struck obUquely ; with this precaution, the whole will be 
equally c(»npressed. The man at the angle of the wall 
should beat carefully against the head of the mould. 

" Care must be taken that no fresh earth is received into 
the mould till the first layer is well beaten, which may 
be ascertained by striking it with a rammer; the stroke 
should leave hardly any print on the place. They must 
proceed in this manner to ram in layer after layer, till 
the whole mould is full. When this is done, the machine 
may be taken to pieces, and the earth which is contained 
will remain firm and upright, about 9 ft. in length and 
z\ ft. in height. The mould may then be replaced for 
another length, including i in. of that which has first been 

" The first course being thus completed, we proceed to 
the second ; and here it must be observed that in each 
successive course we .must proceed in a direction contrary 
to that of the preceding. It may easily be conceived, 
that with this precaution the )oints of the several lengths 
will be inclined in opposite directions, which will con- 
tribute very much to the firmness of the work. There is 
no reason to fear overchargpg the first course with the 
second, though but just laid ; for three courses may be 
laid without danger in one day. 

" This description of the first two courses is equally applic- 

62 Pisi de Terre 

able to all the others, and will enable any person to build 
a house, with no other materials than earth, of whatever 
height and extent he pleases. 

" With respect to the gables, they may be made without 
any difficulty, by merely making their inclination in the 
mould and working the earth accordingly/' 

§ III. The Theory and Science of Pis6 
The Value of Ramming. — " Beating, or compression, is 
used in many different sorts of work ; the ancients employed 
it in making their rough walls ; the Italians employ it for 
the terraces which adorn their houses ; the Moors for all 
their walls; the Spaniards, the French, and others for 
some of the floors of their apartments. The intent of the 
ancient architects, when they recommended the beating 
of cement and other compositions used in building, was to 
prevent them from shrinking and cracking; and it is 
employed for the same purpose in waUs which are made 
of earth. The beater, by repeated strokes, forces out 
from, the earth the superfluous water which is contained 
and closely unites all the particles together, by which means 
the natural attraction of these particles is made powerful 
to operate, as it is by other natural causes in the formation 
of stones. Hence arises the increasing strength and aston- 
ishing durability which houses of this kind are found to 

An Experiment. — " Upon beating a small portion of earth, 
and weighing it immediately afterwards, it was found to 
weigh 39| lb. Fifteen days after, it had lost 4^ lb» In 
the space of another fifteen days it lost but i lb. ; and 
in fifteen dasrs after that its weight diminished only | lb. 
In the space of about forty-five days the moisture was 
completely evaporated, and its weight was diminished 
about one-eighth; consequently only one-eighth of the 
whole mass was occupied by moisture, and this small pro- 
portion cannot at all affect the solidity and consistency 

Suitable Soils 63 

of the earth so treated. This experiment is also sufficient 
to show the difference between this kind of building and 
that vulgar kind called in England ' mud-walling.' " 

Rate of Work. — " In one single day three courses of about 
3 ft. each may be laid one over the other ; so that a wall 
of earth of about 8 or 9 ft., or one story high, may be safely 
raised in one day. Experience has proved that as soon 
as the builders have raised their walls to a proper height 
for flooring, the heaviest beams and rafters may without 
danger be placed on the walls thus newly made ; and that 
the thickest timber of a roof may be laid on the gables 
of pis6 the very instant they are completed." 


Suitable Soils. — " ist. All earths in general are fit for that 
use, when they have not the lightness of poor lands nor 
the stiffness of clay. 

" 2ndly. All earths fit for v^etation. 

" 3rdly. Brick-earths ; but these, if they are used alone, 
are apt to crack, owing to the quantity of moisture which 
they contain. This, however, does not hinder persons who 
understand the business from using them to a good purpose. 

'* 4thly. Strong earths, with a mixture of small gravel, 
whidi for that reason cannot serve for making either bricks, 
tiles, or pottery. These gravelly earths are very useful, 
and the best pis^ is made of them." 

SoU Tests. — "The following appearances indicate that the 
earth in which they are found is fit for building : when a 
pickaxe, spade, or plough brings up laige lumps of earth 
at a time; when arable lands lies in clods or Itunps; 
when field-mice have made themselves subterraneous 
passages in the earth ; all these are favourable signs. When 
the roads of a village, having been worn away by the water 
continually running through them, are lower than the other 
lands, and the sides of those roads support thanselves 

64 Pisi de Terre 

almost upright, it is a sure mark that pis6 may be 
executed in that village. One may also discover the fitness 
of the soil by trying to break with one's fingers the little 
clods of earth in the roads, and finding a difficulty in doing 
it ; or by observing the ruts of the road, in which the 
cart-wheels make a sort of pis6 by their pressure ; when- 
ever there are deep ruts on a road, one may be sure of 
finding abundance of proper earth. 

" Proper earth is found at the bottom of the slopes of low 
lands that are cultivated, because every year the rain 
brings down the fat or good earth. It is frequently foimd 
on the banks of the river, but above all, it is found at the 
foot of hills, and on all cultivated lands which have much 
slope. In digging trenches and cellars for building, it 
generally happens that what comes out of them is fit for 
the purpose.*' 


Soil Blending. — "As it may sometimes happen that earth 
of a proper quality is not to be found on the spot where it 
is intended to build, it becomes of importance to attend 
to the method of mixing earths; for though the earth 
which is near at hand may not of itself be proper, it is 
very probable that it may be rendered so by the mixture 
of' a small quantity of another earth fetched from a distance. 
The principle on which a mixture must be made is very 
simple; strong earths must be tempered with light; 
those in which clay predominates, with others that are 
composed more of chalk and sand ; and those of a rich, 
glutinous substance, with others of a poor and barren nature. 
The degree in wl^ch these qualities of the earths prevail 
must determine the proportions of the mixture ; which it 
is impossible here to point out for every particular case, 
but which may be learnt by a little practice. Some easy 
methods will be described, by which any one may make 
a trial of the qualities of his earth. 


Experiments 65 

" It will not b^ amiss to mix with the earth some small 
pebbles^ gravel, rubbish of mortar, or in short any small 
mineral substancjBS ; but none of the animial or vegetable 
kind must be admitted.^ Such hard substances bind the 
earth firmly between them, and being pressed and pressing 
in dSl directions, contribute very Qiuch to the solidity of 
the whole; so that well-worked earth, in which there is 
a mixture of gravel, becomes so hard at the end of two 
years that a chisel must be used to break it, as if it was 


Trial by Experiment — "Take a small wooden tub or pail, 
without a bottom, dig a hole in the ground of a court or 
garden, and at the bottom of that hole fix a piece of stone, 
flat and level ; place your tub upon the stone, fill around 
it the earth that has been dug out to make the hole, and 
ram it well, that the tub may be enclosed, to prevent its 
bmrsting. Then ram into the tub the earth you mean to 
try ; putting in, at each time, about the thickness of three 
or four fingers' breadths : when this is well rammed, add 
as much more, and ram it in the same manner, and so the 
third and fourth, etc., till the earth is raised above the 
brim. This superfluous earth must be scraped ofl extremely 
smooth, and rendered as even as the under-part will be, 
which lies on the stone. Loosefi with a spade the earth 
around the tub, and you will then be able to take it out, 
and with it the compressed earth that it contains ; then 
turn the tub upside down, and if it is wider at the top 
than at the bottom, as such vessels usually are, the pis^ will 

* "The pis6 does not admit any vegetable or animal substances. In 
mud walls they put straw, chopped hay, hair, flocks, wool, etc., to make 
the mud adhere to the wood, or laths ; whereas the workmen who build 
in pis6 are tareful to pick out the least straw or the smallest bit of root 
which remains in the earth : in short, the pis6 is a mineral substance 
imitating stone, consequently anything that can slake or rot must be 


66 Pisi de Terre 

easily come out, but if it should happen to stick, let it dry 
in the air about twenty-four hours, and you will then 
find that the earth is loose enough to fall out of itself. You 
must be careful to cover this lump of pis6 with a Uttle 
board ; for though a shower of rain, falling in an oblique 
direction, will not injure it, yet it may be a little damaged 
if the rain falls perpendicularly, and espedaUy if it remains 
upon it. Leave the lump exposed to the air, only covered 
with a board or flat stone, and if it continues without 
cracking or crumbling, and increases daily in density and 
compactness as its natural moisture decreases, you may be 
sure that the earth is fit for building. But you must 
remember that it is necessary that the earth employed 
should be taken from a little below the surface of the 
ground, in order that it may be neither too dry nor too 
wet ; it must be observed also that if the earth is not well 
pressed around the outside of the tub before it is filled, 
though the hoops were of iron, they would burst, so great 
is the pressure of the beaten earth against the mould, of 
whatever size it may be." 

The Earth-ball Test — An Experiment which may he made 
at any time. — " Every person in walking on his ground may 
make httle balls of earth and press them as tight as he can 
between bis hands. If he brings them home and puts 
marks on them, he will by that means know the quality 
of every piece of land, and also be a judge of the mixture 
it wiU be necessary to make." 


Soil Preparation. — " All the operations of this art are very 
simple and easy ; there is nothing to be done but to dig up 
the earth with a pickaxe, break the clods with a shovel so as 
to divide it well, and then lay it in a heap, which is very 
necessary, because as the labourers throw it on that heap, the 
Imnps of earth and large stones roll to the bottom, where 
another man may break them or draw them away with a 

Preparation of the Earth 67 

rake. I must observe that there should be ah interval of 
about an inch and a quarter between the teeth of the rake, 
that the stones and pebbles of the size of a walnut, or 
something more, may escape, and that it may draw of! 
only the largest. If the earth that has been dug has not 
the proper quality, which is seldom the case, and it is 
necessary to fetch some better from a distsmce, then the 
mixture must be made in this manner : one man must 
throw one shovelful of the best sort, while the others throw 
five or six of the inferior sort on the heap, and so more or 
less according to the proportions which have been previously 

Rain. — " No more earth should be prepared than the men 
can work in one day, or a little more, that they may not 
be in want ; but if rain is expected, you must have at hand 
either planks, mats, or old cloths to lay over the heap of 
earth, so that the rain may not wet it ; and then as soon 
as the rain is over, the men may resume their work, which, 
without this precaution, must be delayed; for it must 
be remembered that the earth cannot be used when it is 
either too dry or too wet, and therefore if the rain should 
wet it after it has been prepared, the men will be obliged 
to wait till it has recovered its proper consistency — a delay 
which would be equally disadvantageous to them and their 
eimploycr. When the earth has been soaked by rain, 
instead of sufiering compression, it becomes mud in the 
mould ; even though it be but a little too moist, it cannot 
be worked ; it swells under the blows of the rammer, and 
a stroke in one place makes it rise in another. When 
this is the case, it is better to stop the work, for the men 
find so much diflBiculty that it is not wcwth while to proceed. 
But there is not the same necessity of discontinuing the 
work when the earth is too dry, for it is easy to give it the 
necessary degree of moisture ; in such a case it should be 
sprinkled with a watering-pot, and afterwards well mixed up 
together ; it will then be fit for use." 

68 PisS de Terre 

Organic Matter, — " It has akeady been observed that no 
vegetable substances should be left in the earth ; therefore 
in digging, as well as in laying the earth in a heap, great 
care must be taken to pick out every bit of root, great and 
small, all sprigs and herbs, aU bits of hay and straw, chips 
or shavings of woods, and in general everything that can 
rot or suffer a change in the earth." 


Comers. — "To make good walls, it b not sufficient that 
the earth be well beaten, we must also learn to unite them 
well together. Here the binders cost very little; they 
consist only of thin pieces of wood, a few cramps and nails, 
and these are sufficient to give the greatest stabiUty to 
buildings of pis6." 

Having gone on to explain that the angles of the building 
are formed by the successive courses alternately crossing 
one another on the comer like the alternating " long and 
short " quoins in a stone building, our authority proceeds 
to describe how rough boards are laid between the courses 
of pis6 so as to cross at the comer and so, entirely encased 
in tightly compressed earth, they form effective ties. 

"This board must be rough, as the sawyers have left it, 
5 or 6 ft. long, something less than i in. thick, and in breadth 
about 8, 9 or zo in., so that there may remain on each side 
4 or 5 in. of earth, if the wall is i8 in. thick ; by this means 
the board will be entirely concealed in the body of the wall. 
When thus placed neither the air nor damp can reach it, 
and of course there is no danger of its rotting. This has 
been often proved by experience, as in taking do\9n old 
houses of pis6 such boards have always been found pre- 
fectly sound, and many that had not even lost the colour 
of new wood. It is easy to conceive how much this board, 
from the pressure of the work raised above it, will help to 
bind together the two lengths of wall and to strengthen 
the angle." 

The Strength of Pisi 69 

Bonders.— '* It is useful (paxticulaxly when the earth Is 
not of a very good quality) to put ends of planks into the 
pis6 after it has been rammed about half the height of 
the mould. These ends of planks should only be 10 or 
II in. long, to leave as before a few inches of earth on each 
side of the wall, if it is 18 in. thick ; they should be laid 
crosswise (as the plank before mentioned is laid lengthwise) 
over the whole course, at the distance of about 2 ft. from 
one another, and will serve to equalise the pressure of the 
upper parts of the works on the lower course of the 

" The boards above mentioned need only be traced at the 
angles of the exterior wall, and in those parts where the 
courses of the partition walls Join to those of the exterior 
wall, the same directions that have here been given for the 
second course must be observed at each succeeding course, 
up to the roof. By these means the reader will perceive 
that an innumerable quantity of holders or bondings will 
be formed, which sometimes draw to the right, sometimes 
to the left of the angles, and which powerfully unite the 
front walls with those of the partitions ; the several parts 
deriving mutual support from one another, and the whole 
being rendered compact and solid." 

5/r^ng^A.-^'' Hence these houses, made of earth alone, are 
able to resist the violence of the highest winds, storms and 
tempests. The height that is intended to be given to each 
story being known, boards of 3 or 4 ft. in length should 
be placed beforehand in the pis£, in those places where 
the beams are to be fixed, and as soon as the mould no 
longer occupies that place, the beams may be laid on, 
though the pisd be fresh made; little slips of wood, or 
boards, may be introduced under them, in order to fix 
them level. The beams thus fixed for each- story, the 
pis^ may be continued as high as the place on whidi you 
intend to erect the roof." 

70 Pis^ de Terre 



Speed of Building. — " Besides the advantages of strength 
and cheapness, this method of building possesses that 
of speed in the execution. That the reader may know 
the time that is required for building a house, or an enclo- 
sure, he need only be told that a mason used to the work 
can, with the help of his labourer, when the earth Ues near, 
build in one day 6 ft. square of the pis6/' 

Rendering. — " To prepare the walls for plastering, indent 
them with the point of the hammer, or hatchet, without 
being afraid of spoiling the surface left by the mould; 
all those little dents must be made as close as possible to 
each other, and cut in from top to bottom, so that every 
hole may have a Uttle rest in the inferior part, which will 
serve to retain and support the plast^ir. 

" If you happen to lay the plaster over them before the 
dampness is entirely gone, you must expect that the sweat 
of the walls will cast off the plaster." 

The wall surface having been duly hammer-chipped, the 
work must be scoured with a stiff brush to remove all loose 
earth and dust, and to finally prepare it for rough-casting. 
Rough-cast consists of a small quantity of mortar, diluted 
with water in a tub, to which a trowel of pure lime is added, 
so as to make it about the thickness of cream. 

One workman and his labourers are sufficient ; the work- 
man on the scaffold sprinkles with a brush the wall iie has 
indented, swept, and prepared ; after that he dips another 
brush, made of bits of reed, box, etc., into the tub which 
contains the rough-cast, and throws with this brush the 
rough-cast against the wall. 

" Rough-cast, which is attended with so little trouble 
and expense, is notwithstanding the best cover that can 
be made for pis6 wall^and for all other constructions; 
it contributes to preserve the buildings. It is the peculiar 

A PisS Church 71 

advantage of these buildings that all the materials they 
require are cheap, and all the workmanship simple and 

Local Testimony. — ^At the end of the article just 
summarised, an instructive letter from a former rector of 
St. John's, La RocheUe, is quoted : 

" SiR,- 

"My having been an inhabitant for some time ot 
the town of Montbrison, capital of the Forets, enables me 
to give you some information concerning the mode of build- 
ing houses with earth, etc. 

A Pis6 Church. — " The church was the most remarkable 
in this style of building ; it is about 80 ft. long, 40 ft. broad, 
and 50 ft. high ; the walls built in pis^, 18 in. thick, and 
cr^p^, or rough-cast on the outside, with lime and sand. 
Soon after my arrival, the church, by some accident, was 
destroyed by lire, and remained unroofed for about . a 
twelvemonth, exposed to rains and frost. As it was sus- 
pected that the walls had sustained much damage, either 
by fire or the inclemency of the season, and might fall 
down, it was determined to throw them down partially, 
and leave only the lower parts standing; but even this 
was not done without much difficulty, such was the firm- 
ness and hardness these walls had acquired, the church 
having stood above eighty years; and all the repairs 
required were only to give it on the outside, every twelve 
or fifteen years, a new coating of rough-cast. 

''A house for a single family is generally finished in 
about a fortnight. The following is the method I have 
seen them practise." 

Building Procedure. — " The earth is pounded as much as 
possible, in order to crumble any stones ther^ ; clay is 
added thereto in a small quantity, about one-eighth part. 
It is all beaten and mixed up together by repeated blows 
with a mallet about 10 in. broad, and 10 or 15 in. long, 
and 2 in. thick. The earth being thus prepared, and 

72 PisS de Terre 

slightly wetted, the foundation of the house is dug for; 
this is laid with stone, and when it is about i ft. high above 
the surface of the ground, planks are arranged on each 
side, which are filled with earth intended for the wall; 
this is called Pis6 in the dfalect of the country. It is 
strongly beaten ; and this method is continued successively 
all round the building. The walls have more or less thick- 
ness according to the fancy of the owner ; I have seen 
them 6 in. and z8 in. thick. If several stories are intended 
in such erections, they do not fail to place beams to support 
the floors before they build higher. Of such buildings I 
never saw any consisting of more than three floors at most ; 
generally they have but two. When the building is thus 
finished, it is left for some months to dry ; then such as 
wish to make the building more solid and durable, give it 
a rough-cast coating on the outside with lime and sand. 
This i^ what I have observed during a residence of three 
years in the town of Montbrison. I should be happy if 
this detail should afford the slightest information to the 
generous nation which has received us with so much good- 

" I am, etc., 

" Jaucour." 

The Virtues of PisS. — *' Such is the method of building 
which has been practised in the Lyonnese for many cen- 
turies. Houses so built are strong, healthy, and very 
cheap, they will last a great length of time, for the French 
author says he bad pulled down some of them which, 
from the title-deeds in the possession of the proprietors, 
appeared to be 165 years old, though they had been ill 
kept in repair. The rich traders of Lyons have no other 
way of building their country-houses,. An outside covering 
of painting in fresco, which is attended with very little 
expense, conceals from the eye of the spectator the nature 
of the building, and is a handsome ornament to the house. 

Indian and Colonial Practice 73 

That method of painting has more freshness and brilliancy 
than any other, because water does not impair the cdours. 
No size, oit« or expense is required, manual labour is almost 
aU it costs, either to the rich or poor. Any person may 
make his house look as splendid as he pleases, for a few 
pence laid out in red or yellow ochre, or in other mineral 

Strangers who have sailed upon the Rh6ne probably 
never suspected that those beautiful houses, which they 
saw rising on the hills around th^n, were built of nothing 
but earth, nay, many persons have dwelt for a consider- 
able time in such houses without ever being aware of their 
singular construction. Farmers in that country generally 
have them simply white-washed, but others, who have a 
greater taste for ornament, add pilasters, wiiklow-cases, 
panels, and decorations of various kinds. 

There is every reason for introducing this method of 
building into all parts of the kii\gdom ; whether we con- 
sider the honour of the nation as concerned in the neatness 
of its villages, the great saving of wood which it will occa- 
sion, and the consequent security frcon fire, or the health 
of the inhabitants, to which it will greatly contribute, as 
such houses are never liable to the extremes of heat or 
cold. It is attended with many other circumstances that 
are advantageous to the State as well as to individuals. 
It saves both time and labour in building, and the houses 
may be inhabited almost immediately after they are 
finished ; for which latter purpose the holes made for the 
Joists should not be closed up directly, as the air, if suffered 
to circulate through them, will dry the walls more speedily." 

§ IV. IifDiAN AND Colonial Practice 
A Manual on Earthwork, edited by Colonel Maclagan, 
R.E., gives much interesting information as to Pis^-build- 
ing and a number of valuable hints : 

Shutter-ties. — "Cross pieces, as the work proceeds. 

74 ^ Pise de Terre 

become so finnly embedded in the wall, that there is great 
difficulty in extracting them, to remedy which iron bars 
have been substituted. Even these thin iron bars become 
so tightly jammed when surrounded by the compact pis^ 
earth, that much labour and risk of injury to the work 
is incurred in extricating them, and the expedient of setting 
them in a bed of sand has been successfully resorted to. 
They are then drawn out with care, the sand also is removed, 
and the holes which they leave are subsequently filled with 
the same earth of which the wall is made, and rammed hard. 

" The heads of the opposite uprights are held together 
by ropes, but in practice in this country * it has been found 
that, under the immense pressure exerted upon the plank 
sides by the earth firmly rammed in the interior, the ropes 
are so liable to stretch, and to break, that it is advisable 
to use iron rods or bars in this position also. When ropes 
are used, the distance between the side planks is measured 
by gauge rods, and the ropes tightened when requisite 
to preserve the proper breadth of wall. The use of iron 
connecting rods renders this unnecessary." 

Soil. — "Soil of a medium quaUty, that is neither very 
stiff nor very sandy, is considered best adapted for pis6. 
It may be said that that which would make good bricks 
will answer well for this description of work. 

" When the earth is very dry, a sprinkling of water will 
be necessary," 

Foundations. — " It is usual to b^;in the work upon a 
foundation of brick or masomy ; but there seems to be no 
reason why the pis6 might not be used from the commence- 
ment, even for foundations under ground ; being carefully 
guarded from all chance of injury by running water." 

The Building. — ** The casing being prepared and erected, 
and the upper surface of the old work, when above the 
first stage, being sprinkled with water, the earth, weU mixed 
and slightly moistened, is thrown in, and spread in thin 

^ ^ India. 

Plastering 75 

- — -■ .•---.--■-.■-.... 

layers of 4 or 5 in. These should, when rammed, be reduced 
to one-half their original thickness. The rammers should 
be of hard wood and very smooth. The successive layers 
are similarly treated, and thus the work proceeds until 
the top of the casing is reached. The ends of each portion 
should be finished with a slope, to which will be joined the 
portion next to be added longitudinally. These joinings 
^ould not, in the successive courses, be above those of 
the lower stage, but as in masonry and brickwork, should 
' break Joint.' The seams . are all distinctly perceptible 
when the work is complete." 

Plastering, — "The wall may have a coating of plaster, 
or the surface may be simply smoothed and dressed with 
a shovel, or similar implement. When it is to be plastered, 
it is necessary that the wall should first be thoroughly dry. 
If dry only externally whilst damp within, it has been f oimd 
that the moisture is apt subsequently to attack the plaster 
and cause it to fall off in flakes. Without plaster, good 
Pis^ work is found successfully to withstand exposure to 
the weather, and after the lapse of many years to be so 
compact and hard as to be picked down with difficulty." 

Protection. — "Where the wall is not that of a roofed 
building, it should be provided with a coping, having a 
good projection to protect it from rain." 

Rods versus Bars. — "The substitution of iron connecting 
bars for the wooden ones has been mentioned above. The 
evils of the wooden arrangement were found to be : the 
starting of the wedges, the fracture of the tenons, the 
tight jamming of the bars in the wall, and the injury to 
the waUs and to the bars themselves from the force requisite 
to be applied for extracting them. The lower iron con- 
necting bars are made 3J in. by J in. ; the upper, i in. 
by i or J in. each, having holes J in. by J in., with corre- 
sponding pins. 

" The mode of setting the bars and arranging the work 
on each successive elevation of the casing is to cut on the 

76 PisS de Terre 

surface of the completed part of the wall a groove i in. 
wider than the bar, filling it in, after placing the bar, 
with sand, to the level of the wall's surface. The side 
boarding being set up, the vacant space left along the bevelled 
edge of the previous course is filled up with moist clay to 
retain the first layer of the new course. The end pieces 
are secured by iron bars or rods, with screws and nuts." * 

Ramming, — ** Gentle and quick ramming has been found 
most effectual." 

Report on the PisS-work executed at the Etah Jail during 
1867-8. By Mr. H. Sprenger, Assistant Engineer 

" The boxes in which the pis6-work at the Etah Jail is 
being executed consist of two wooden frames 10 ft. long 
and 2| ft. broad, made of planks, which are nailed on to 
stout battens. They are held together by four pairs of 
posts 3 in. by 3 in., which are connected above and below 
with tie-bars of flat iron ij in: by J in. The tie-bars have 
at each end a certain number of ^ in. holes punched in 
them to receive pins for the purpose of preventing the 
posts from slipping off. By changing the pins, walls of 
any given dimension can be obtained, wedges of hard wood, 
with longitudinal slots, are introduced between the posts 
and the pins, to adjust the breadth of the boxes to a stan- 
dard gauge. After the boxes are fixed and adjusted, they 
are secured in their position by ropes passing over them, 
and tied to stakes on each side. Any deflection from the 
vertical should be corrected at the commencement of the 
woik, as it is impossible to alter the position of a box after 
it is half full. Any earth which is suitable for brick-making 
will do for pis6-work. On being dug out it is passed through 

^ " A convenient arrangement might be : to make the lower and upper 
connecting bars alike, to raise the side boarding a few inches above the 
upper bars, which, when embedded, might be allowed to remain and 
become the lower ones of the next course ; the external apparatus being 
shifted by taking out the pins and slipping oft the stanchions and planks 
to be roapl^lied ^ th« upper bars already in podtioii to receive them/' 

'] *'> 


The Right ^antity of Water 77 

a screen with |-in. meshes, and thrown into the boxes in 
even layers of 6 in. in depth. 

"Generally fresh earth contains sufiicient moisture to 
ensure good consolidation ; but if it is found that it jumps 
up under the rammers, it should, on being thrown into 
the boxes, be sprinkled with a little water out of a tin can 
with a rose. The watering should be as uniform as possible, 
as if it is applied unequally it will liquefy the earth, which 
will commence oozing out under the rammers. Pis^-work 
executed with too much water is worse than if done with 
dry earth, as, on account of the elasticity of the wet earth, 
the effect of the ramming is deadened, and the earth remains 
unconsolidated. The men should be prohibited to keep 
time in ramming, as it causes vibration, which is injurious 
to the stabiUty of the wall. On working over a lower 
course, it is as well to let the lower tie-bars about 4 in. 
into the same to give the boxes a firm hold on the old work, 
thereby the joints become imperceptible, and the upper 
edge of the Iowa: course is prevented from chipping off. 

"The implanents used are three different kinds of 
rammers. The earth is first beaten down with a V-shaped 
rammer, and then surfaced with one with a fiat bottom. 
The sides of the boxes are consolidated with a spade- 
shaped rammer. When commencing the pis^-work ai 
Etah, considerable difiiculty was experienced in extricating 
the lower tie-bars. These were, therefore, supplied with 
holes 3 in. apart throughout their whole length. A pin 
was inserted, against which a crow-bar with a long slot 
and well bent at the end was made to work. An equal 
pressure could thereby be exerted against the tie-bars ; they 
were thus extracted with great facility without injuring them 
or the face of the wall, which was not the case formerly." 

Supplementary Note by Mr. E. Battie, Executive Engineer, 

$th Division, Grand Trunk Road 

** The w<»:k at Etah has generally been concluded in the 

78 PisS de Terre 

following manner : In the morning the boxes were taken 
down, and again put up and filled during the day; they 
were left during the night, so that the earth might detach 
itself from the sides. It is not advisable to allow a course 
to dry thoroughly, as the upper one will not bind well 
into it, but probably show a crack. If the earth is well 
rammed, and only the proper quantity of moisture admitted, 
a second course can be commenced immediately." 

The Report of the Rhodesia Munitions and Resources Com- 
mittee issued in 1918 containsaninterestingpaperbyMr. John 
Hynd on Pis6-building, from which the following is extracted : 

**Pis6 de Terre Buildings 

'' The Spectator took this matter up some two years ago 
and wrote as follows : 

" ' Various schemes of land settlement are in the air. ... 
All of them must, however, be concerned with cheap 
buildings. That is a sit^e qua non.' . , . 

"The material used for the walls at Empandeni is one- 
third sand, one-third ant-heap, and one-third soil, all pul- 
verised and put through a sieve. Water is then added. 
The mixture must be neither too wet nor too dry, just 
sufficiently damp to bind ; a good indication of the correct 
consistency being that when squeezed hard by the hand it 
shows a tendency to bind. Sufficient of the loose mixture 
is thrown into the form to fill it to a depth of about 3 in., 
and this is thoroughly ranmxed before the next layer is 
put in. Most thorough ramming is essential. When the 
frame is rammed full, it is taken apart and shifted along 
to make another section and so on until the first layer is 
complete. The first layer is, as a rule, sufficiently dry to 
permit the starting of the next about three hours after 
laying. Door and window frames are put in as the work 
proceeds, and must be well braced while ranuning. In 
the top layer hoop iron or fencing wire is let in for fastening 
down the wall plates. Arsenite of soda or Atlas Compound 


PisS Buildings at Empandeni 79 

is used in the first layer or two to keep out white ants. 
The floor can be made of timber, cement concrete, or rammed 
earth, and the roof thatched or covered with corrugated 
iron as is most convenient. 

"The following Pis£ de terre buildings have been erected 
at Empandeni : 

" A large schoolroom 75 ft. by 28 ft. by 12 ft. high, walls 
14 in. thick ; seven boys' dormitories, each 30 ft. by 20 ft. 
by 12 ft. ; twelve single-room houses, each 16 ft. by 12 ft. ; 
six fowl houses, each 20 ft. by 10 ft. ; a large fowl house 
250 ft. long, front walls 7 ft. and back walls 5 ft. high. 
This building is divided into fifteen compartments. 

"From the foregcdng description it is quite evident that 
cheap and efficient buildings of this nature can be erected 
at a very low cost. 

" On a farm it is not necessary to employ any skilled 
labour, as the doors and windows can be purchased ready- 
made, and the frame-work, clamps, etc., put together by 
the farmer himself. For a roof of thatch all the necessary 
material, except iron ridging, if this is used, can as a rule 
be procured on the farm. 

" Should a cement concrete floor, which is cheaper than 
a wood one, be desired, there would be an extra expendi- 
ture for cement, the amount required being about two bags 
per twelve square yards. Such a floor should be laid 
before the walls of the building are commenced, and it is 
essential that the site is thoroughly well rammed and 
consolidated, particularly below where walls will come, 
before la3dng the concrete, to prevent cracks developing 
through settlement. The concrete raft should be carried 
at least 6 in. beyond the outside walls of the building, 
and if the work is properly done, a special ant-course will 
be unnecessary. The concrete can be left rough below 
the walls to give a bond, and it might be advisable to lay 
some pieces of hoop iron in it which would be left project- 
ing to be bedded into the walls. 

8o Pisi de Terre 

"Another good type of floor would probably be that 
suggested in The Spectator, vt2« road material laid down 
and tarred in the same manner as roads are now made in 
many places. 

" A number of rooms and houses have been erected on 
the Globe and Phoenix Mine on much the same principle 
as T?\s& de terre buildings, but the system developed there 
is different as r^axds the mixture, which consists of two 
parts ant-heap or ordinary dagga which must not be too 
sandy, and three parts a^es or clinker sieved free from 
fine dust. 

" A very full description of the method employed on this 
mine was forwarded by the courtesy of the Manager to the 
CcHumittee, and it is interesting to note from this that 
the walls are made waterproof by first making them smooth 
with dagga plaster, then, when quite dry, giving one good 
coat of boiling hot tar. A coat of limewash is applied 
three days later. That this is effective is well evidenced 
by the fact that the buildings erected have successfully 
withstood our last abnormally heavy rainy season. 

" The Globe and Phoenix system is the result of a number 
of experiments carried out on that mine. Their mixture, 
which is stated to be ant-proof, contains more moisture 
than Pis6 de terre, and each course is reinforced with old 
wire rope, or other suitable scrap. The material is left 
in a heap for one or two da3rs before being used. 

-' Circular huts have been built on the mine of the same 
material, the forms being made of two rings of corrugated 
iron in three or more sections joined up with cleats at the 
end laps and held in position with cross bolts and distance 
pieces. The inner ring is 9 in. less radius than the outer one." 

Extracts from a paper on PisS in the " Farmers' Hand- 
book," issued by the Department of Agriculture, New 
South Wales, 191 1 
' Pis6 is a material readily obtainable by the settler. 

Pise Buildings /or Settlers 8i 

of which cheap and durable buildings can be easily and 
substantially erected. 

" For the construction of pastoral or agricultural build- 
ings, especially in districts rempte from railways, or from 
towns in which other building materials are cheap or easily 
procurable, pis6 is particularly well adapted. In the 
country earth is plentiful and readily obtainable ; in the 
city or town such is not the case, and this fact, combined 
with the very bulky nature of the material, prohibits its 
use in such centres of population. 

"To the selector or settler, who, like many of our suc- 
cessful pioneers, is not burdened with a superfluity of hard 
cash, but who possesses an abundant capital of energy, 
combined with a certain amount of handiness, pisd has an 
additional advantage (which it shares with slabs, wattie 
and daub, etc.) over most other building materiab, in that 
it affords him an opportunity of erecting his homesteading 
largely as the result of his own labour. 

" As a building material, pis^ is infinitely superior and 
more durable than slabs, galvanised iron, or weather- 
boards. In fact it is questionable whether it is not more 
suitable for our climate, and therefore to be preferred to 
brickwork; for pis^ buildings, properly protected and 
finished, are quite as durable and much cooler than build- 
ings constructed with solid brick walls. This statement 
may be questioned by some whose knowledge of pis^ 
is limited to buildings so badly plamied that the very 
elemental principles of building construction have been 
neglected. This neglect, which is all too common, makes 
things bad enough, but when to it is added, as is some- 
times the case, indifferent workmanship, combined with 
the use of unsuitable material, the result does not call 
for admiration, and it is not surprising that a bad impres- 
sion is created. With no other knowledge of pis6 it is 
only natural to condemn it because of such specimens, 
but under similar circumstances other better-known 

82 PisS de Terre 

building materials of proved excellence would also be 
condemned. Brickwork would just as readily be con- 
demned if its building qualities had to be estimated by 
the appearance presented by a brick building which had 
been constructed of badly-burnt bricks laid by unskilful 
tradesmen on an imperfectly thought-out plan. Just as 
with other building materials, the possibiUties of this 
material can only be judged by an examination of properly 
planned and constructed examples of the pis6-builder's 
art. Such are found here and there throughout the coimtry, 
pleasing to look at, affording comfort and satisfaction to 
their owners. A properly constructed pis6 building can 
be finished to suit the taste of the most fastidious. Even 
without plaster the walls can be ' floated ' down and a 
' skin ' obtained on them which, when Umewashed, resembles 
stonework. When plastered inside and out they possess 
the advantages of a stone house, and are erected at a 
fraction of the cost. 

" Some idea may be formed of the durabiUty of pis6 by 
the fact that there is a stable built of pis6 which has been 
in constant use for over sixty years, and which at the present 
time is in good order. The good condition of this stable 
is the more surprising because the external walls are un- 
protected from the weather, and it is generally recognised 
that pis6-work, especially if unplastered, should be pro- 
tected from the direct action of rain. Pis6 buildings are 
said to have a life of a century and a half. 

** The stability of pisd buildings is beyond question, as is 
proved by the following instance : — ^At Lambrigg, a second- 
story brick building, with 14-in. walls, and containing 
ten rooms, is built upon a lower story of pis6. The brick- 
layer who had the contract for erecting the brick portion 
of the house refused, as it was built upon pis6, to guarantee 
his work. Some time after the completion of the house 
he visited it, and after a thorough examination of the 
building, declared that Hit was the most substantial brick 

'Builders' Aversions 83 

house in the district, as it had not a crack in it, a feature 
which was somewhat unusual in that locality. Another 
case bearing on the same subject is that of a residence at 
Temora. When this building was being constructed the 
workmen omitted to leave holes for the bolts which were 
to secure the verandah plates to the walls, as it was thought 
these could readily be bored out afterwards with an auger. 
On attempting to bore out these holes on the completion 
of the building, and when the pis6-work had become drier, 
the operation of boring proved so difficult as to be prac- 
tically impossible, and had to be abandoned. 

" The merits of pis6-work have been recognised in France, 
India, Mexico, and California for years past, and seeing 
its equal suitability for our climate, it is surprising that 
these merits have not led to its being more extensively 
used. The principal reason for this seems to be because 
our builders are averse to undertaking this class of work, 
and in consequence the bulk of it is placed in the hands of 
untrained "fiien, who, whilst quite fitted to carry out the 
pis6-work, are not competent to imdertake the other 
constructive work of a building. However, they do not 
hesitate to do this, as well as to undertake the more im- 
portant work (though unrecognised as being so) of planning 
out the building. The result is in most cases an improperly 
planned and defectively constructed building, which appeals 
to no one, but has a tendency to bring pis^ into disrepute. 

"The reason for a builder's unwillingness to undertake 
pis6-work is not far to seek. For the successful carrying 
out of his work a builder relies upon skilled tradesmen ; 
our tradesmen are trained in cities and towns, and as pis£ 
is not a suitable material for such places, tradesmen do 
not become familiar with it. A good builder with a repu- 
tation to lose shrinks from placing that reputation at the 
mercy of a pis6-builder, who is not recognised as a trades- 
man, and in whom, in consequence of this, a builder is 
likely to have little or no confidence. 

84 Pis^ de Terre 

"The actual erection of pis^-work presents so little 
difl&culty that it can be done by any one who has sufficient 
strength to shovel earth and wield a lummer, provided he 
will exercise care to see that the moulds or boxes into 
which the earth is shovelled are kept plumb and in straight 
Unes. The average settler, even with no previous know- 
ledge of pis6-work or building construction, need have no 
hesitation in undertaking the pis6-work of his owti build- 
ings if he works to a well-thought-out plan drawn up by 
somebody competent to do so. 

" The necessity of having a plan prepared by some one 
who understands the principles and requirements of simple 
building construction, before undertaking the erection of 
any building, cannot be too strongly emphasised. This 
great need, which is often overlooked by the settler, cannot 
be economically dispensed with. The securing of a properly 
prepared plan is of the greatest value towards obtaining 
a building of the maximiun strength and durability, com- 
bined with the best appearance and greatest convenience, 
for the least cost. Even when a settler undertakes the 
pis^-work of his own building, it will only be In rare instances 
that he will not have the advantage of trained supervision 
during its erection. The services of a tradesman will 
invariably be found necessary to make doors and window- 
frames, construct the roof, etc. This workman can be 
engaged When the building is started, and whilst preparing 
the timbers of the roof, in readine3s for the time when they 
will be required on the completion of the pis6-work, can 
supervise the fixing of the door and window frames, and 
see they are set correctly, and in their proper places. 

"Pis£ walls are constructed in sections, the extent of 
which is regulated by the supply of casings available. 

"Into the moulds formed by the boxes the earth is 
shovelled in layers of 4 or 5 in., and then rammed until 
thoroughly soUd before another layer is put in. On the 
completion of the section, i.e. when the mould is full and 


Number of Men Required 85 

well rammed, the keys or pins are knocked out of the 
' boitt^/ and the ' boxes ' taken apart and erected on another 
pottion of the building. The top of that portion of the 
pis6-work on which it is proposed to erect another section 
should be well moistened and covered with wet bags some 
hours before the mould is formed. The bottom of the 
mould should overlap the top of the pis^work by about 
6 in. After the * boxes ' are put together, the top layer 
of pisS should be loosened with a pick so as to form a bond 
with the section about to be built, and if this section adjoins 
one already built, the ends of the latter should be bevelled 
off so as not to form a straight joint. 

"Material which is to6 sandy will fret away, and one 
containing day will crack when dry. Soils containing 
these defects should be avoided. There is, however, such 
a wide range of soils which are suitable that a iiolding 
of any size on which suitable soils cannot be found will 
be the exception. It is possible to remedy the defects 
found in one soil by mixing it with another soil, but very 
rarely will such a course be necessary. 

*'The plant required will depend upon the number of 
men to be employed. Three is the least number that can 
be economically employed — two attending to the boxes 
and ramming, and one carting earth from its location to 
the building and assisting generally. The plant required 
for this number of men is given below. If more are engaged, 
additional plant of the same character will be found advan- 
tageous. « 

" The necessary plant will consist of — 2 wooden rammers, 

1 iron shod rammer, 2 straight boxes, 2 angle boxes, 3 casings 
for blocking up the ends of boxes, bolts and keys for same, 
12 gauge rods, washers — a Uberal supply of f-in. washers, 

2 shovels, X spade, a horse and dray or other means for 
transporting the material to the building (if required)/' 

The following detailed instructions are taken from the 
same authority : 

86 PisS de Terre 


Excavator. — Remove the turf to make footings, but not 
deeper at any place than 3 in. Step where required. 


Walls. — Erect the walls as shown on plan, external 
walls 18 in., internal walls 15 in., carried up plumb and 
true, with all cross walls properly bonded by continuing 
the pis6-boxes around all angles; when necessary, the 
material for the walls is to be properly tempered with 
sufficient water. All sticks and vegetable matter are to be 

Suitable maimal : to be a pipeclay loam, with a trace of 
small gravel evenly distributed through it,* The boxes 
to be filled in thin layers of 4 in. at a time, and well rammed 
until soUd ; the workmen are not to use their rammers in 

The whole of the internal angles, also door and window 
Jambs, to be neatly splayed. 

Floating, — Moisten well the outside and inside walls 
before the floors are laid, and float same to even smooth 
surface with wooden hand-float, using weak plaster, where 

Bolts. — ^Toliold down wall-plates, provide and build in 
I in. bolts, not less than 15 in. long, and spaced not more 
than 6 ft. apart". 

Damp-course. — Below all walls lay a three-ply Ruberoid 
damp-course the full width of walls, to lap at ends at least 
4 in. 

Ventilators. — Insert below floors, where directed, four 
9 in. by 6 in. galvanised iron air gratings, in wooden frames 
i^ in. thick by full width of walls; also insert at about 
18 in. below cdling similar air gratings and frames. 

Plugs. — Insert plugs 3 ft. apart for skirting, chair and 
picture-rail, at the heights directed. 

> This was spedfi^ because it was the best material near the site. 

PisS in New Zealand 87 

Frames. — Set all frames plumb and true, and secmred in 
wall before removing head. Lintels and heads must be 
well and solidly bedded in mortar, at proper heights. The 
whole of the work to be done in a proper workmanlike 

Fillet. — Finish against intersection of floor and wall 
with neat i^ in. quarter-round fillet, scribed to wall and 
floor and nailed to floors. 

The pis6-builder will require to build into wall at all 
window and door openings 3 in. by 3 in. shaped plugs, 
spaced not more than 3 ft. apart to secmre architraves. 

Lintels. — For all door and window openings provide 
6 in. by 4 in. well-seasoned pine lintels, to extend 12 in. 
into pis6-work on each side of opening. 

Skirting. — Provide and fix in all rooms, to plugs about 
3 ft. apart, 6-in. skirting, neatly scribed to floors, mitred 
at angles as required. 

Picture-rail.-^PTOvide 3 in. by i in. picture-rail to all 

Plugs. — Prepare and tar for pis6-builder 3 in. by i in. 
well-seasoned softwood plugs, 15 in. long, as per detail, 
for skirtings, picture- and chair-rail, to be inserted 3 ft. 


" This is a modification of Pis6, which provides a settler 
in a district where poles and saplings are available with a 
quick method of providing himself with a comfortable 
temporary residence without the expenditure of much cash. 
To construct buildings of this character, a framework of 
saplings or poles, at intervals of 3 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft. apart, 
is first erected ; this framework is .covered on both sides 
with i| in. mesh wire-netting. The two sections of netting 
are held together, strengthened, and prevented from 
stretching and bulging between the posts by means of wire 
hooks or loops, which are as long as the posts are wide. 

88 PisS de Terre 

The spaces thus enclosed by the netting and the poles are 
then filled with earth, whidi is well ranuned, thus making 
a solid wall 4 in. to 6 in. thick. This wall can be plastered, 
the plaster forming a key with the wire-netting, which 
holds securely. Buildings of this character can be made 
to look rather attractive, and, if neatly constructed, are 
very much superior, both in appearance and comfort, to 
slabs or wattle and daub." 



That the plant now commonly in use for pis4-building is 
but a slight improvement on the anciently accepted model, 
may be seen by a comparison of modem examples with old 
engravings and descriptions. Pisd-building lay off the great 
main stream of constructional activity, and the enterprise 
and ingenuity lavished on the perfecting of other building 
materials and methods passed Pis^ by, leaving it undisturbed 
in its qtiiet badcwater, a primitive system still with its 
primitive tackle. 

Yet there were a number of very obvious and unnecessary 
shortcomings in the accepted shuttering that seemed to 
clamour for attention, defects, too, that were in no way 
inherent, but merely traditional infelicities reproduced in 
succeeding models that remained remarkably true to their 
primitive ancestral architype — the Pis^ plant described by 

Here seemed to be a very promising field for an ingenious 
inventor, a field that is still " To Let." 

In the absence of any such inventive genius, the author 
has had certain ideas of his own embodied in the " Mark V " 
type of shuttering — a type that further experience and 
experiment will doubtless modify. 

The principle of the building-process remains unaffected. 
The improvements, such as they are, are merely improve- 
ments of mechanism 

r VJ ■ 




\' ' 

Mark V Shuttering. 
:s-braces throwa back and free leg disengaged. 

Mark V Shuttering. 

Showing screw-up securing tackle of exterior corner-piece and 

its rounded interior. Also screw-cramp at interior angle of 


■3 S,Et 

I Sri 

o I i 9 


Mark V Shuttering. 

The angle-iron stay with cioss-brace raised, and the blocking* 

box showing its internal clamping- gear. 

Pis^ Shuttering 89 

Scientific research could doubtless, if it would, do much 
towards perfecting Pis6*building, 

We know very little about the behaviour of different 
earths under compression, or of their several reactions to 
chemical treatment. Meanwhile, a few trifling mechanical 
modifications are all that distinguish our modem plant from 
that devised by the ancients. That said, a short description 
of the " Mark V '' model may be of some interest, pending 
the future developments that may now be hoped for. 


The chief desiderata in designing a satisfactory Pis^ plant 
appear to be these : 

All constituent partd should be reasonably light and easy 
to handle. The shutters should be rigid and not liable to 
warp, without being expensively constructed. The shutters, 
when clamped in position, should be firmly and positively 
supported, without deviation from the vertical. 

The fairway between the shutters must be as little ob- 
structed by the cross-braces as may be, leaving good room 
for the men on the wall to tread and ram. 

The through-pins by which the shuttering rests upon the 
base wall or on a cmnpleted course of Rs6, must be easily 
withdrawn without injury to the wall. 

The shuttering must be easily disengaged and removed 
fronl the wall, one side at a time. 

The special comer-piece must have some means of rigid 
attachment to the ordinary shutters on the two meeting 

There must be some means of blocking off the shuttering 
at any desired point, for the forming of door or window 
openings at any level. \ 

The whole apparatus must be as simple and as fool-proof 
as possible, and built to stand rough usage and exposure 
to the weather. 

90 P/V/ de Terre 


The author has attempted to construct a plant embodjdng 
these essentials, and the working drawing and photographs 
shown will give the reader a tolerable idea of his "Mark V 

The thing has, at the moment of writing, only been ex- 
perimentally tested in one of the London parks. These 
trials were, however, sufficiently satisfactory to encourage 
a beUef that the new plant will prove a very considerable 
improvement on the old. It has now been despatched to 
a site in Surrey, there to undergo the searching and very 
practical test of being used for the building of a small-holder's 
house and homestead. 


To the second edition of this book a postscript must be 
added. Since the last paragraph was written, the small- 
holder's house has come into actual being at Newlands 
Comer, near Guildford, and has attracted a good deal of 
attention from the Press, both at home and abroad. It 
has been inspected by multitudes of people, induding a 
great number of G)lonials and prospective Colonists, and 
by many distinguished persons directly or indirectly con- 
cerned with the problems of housing. 

That "Good wine needs no bush " may be a true sa}dng, 
but a novd system of building assuredly needs demonstra« 
tion, however great its merits. The success of the experi- 
ment at Newlands is admitted by all who have made the 
pilgrimage thither. Often would critics come to scofi and 
remain to pray. Specially prized amongst the converts is 
a foreman-bricklayer once openly scornful in his unbeliei 
Of enthusiasm, perhaps, there has been almost over much ; 
and it has been difficult to restrain the zeal of would-be 
pis^-builders until the coming of spring, and the return 
of such weather conditions as the craft might reasonably 

If Reason Rule 91 

For pis6 is a " dry-earth " method of building, and, as 
at present practised, that means it is a summer job, so far, 
at any rate, as England is concerned. 

The author is the last person to claim that pis6-building 
'may be successfully and economically carried out in all 
places, and at all .seasons. He merely suggests that in a 
great many parts of the United Kingdom, pis6 offers possi- 
bilities of cheap yet permanent building that are very well 
worth exploitation. 

A wide and thorough trial oif the method now seems 
assured under a variety of conditions in a sufficient variety 
of places. Pis^ is to be given its chance in Housing Schemes, 
in Government building demonstrations, on Ducal estates, 
and by ordinary private citizens in need of houses — by the 
rich (old and new), and by the poor. 

H reason rule, pis6 will make good and all will be well. 

If pisfi-building is attempted where the conditions are un- 
suitable and in defiance of its physical limitations, the mis 
guided enthusiasts responsible must blame only themselves. 
But it is not self-reproach alone that they will have to suffer, 
for the author and all true friends of pis6 will view their 
troubles with as much anger as sorrow. 

Nothing could be so well calculated to bring discredit on 
a new movement as the failures of a few enthusiastic in- 


With acknowledgments to the " Spectator " 

Description. — ^The house has six rooms arranged on one 
floor, of areas and cubical contents as laid down in their 
higher " schedules of accommodation " by the Ministry of 
Health and the Board of Agriculture. 

The plan is an adaptation of the first type illustrated in 
the Board's new manual "designed for the guidance of 

92 Pise de Terre 

I ri I II I ^ -■ - ■ — .11 _^^^i 

County Councils and their architects" in the matter of 
buildings for small-holdings. 

The walls are of i8-in. solid pis^-work, the roof of red 
Bridgewater tiles, and the chimney breasts and stacks of 

The floors are boarded save for the back kitchen, which 
is tiled. The inner partitions are of 2-in. breeze blocks, 
the ceilings are plastered, and the casement windows are 
of steel. 

There are two good lofts for storage, one entered from 
the bam, which is an extension of the house proper. 

The pillars of the bam and the partition wall between 
scullery and veranda are of i8 in. by 9 in. by 9 in. rammed 
earth blocks ; the angle pillar to the veranda is of similar 
blocks made from soft chalk. 

The rest of the stracture is of monolithic pis^, built up 
in situ without Joints of any kind, either horizontally or 

Cost, — ^The total cost of the whole of the outer walling 
of the house (in pis^) amounted to less than £20. Had 
the walls been built in brickwork the cost would, accord- 
ing to estimate, have been about £200. 

Specification. — ^The following is an abridged extract 
bom the specification so far as it affects the pis6-builder : 

(i) Excavate to a depth of 9 in. over the site, dumping 
the turf and surface hrnnus where directed. 

This soil is not to be used for building* 

(2) Lay a 6-in. bed of cement and flint concrete 3 ft. 
wide under outer walls. Centrally on this, lay two courses 
of brickwork in cement, to a width of 18 in., or build up 
to the same extent in concrete. 

Lay on this an approved damp-proof course ; if of slates, 
having a further course of brickwork or concrete above it 
to prevent fracture when ramming. 

(3) Erect the walls according to the plan on the bases 
thus formed, canying them up plumb and tme and properly 

Newlands. The Cottage from the South-east. 

The Garden Court. 

The Neplands Specification 93 

bonded by working round the building course by course, 
using the special angle-pieces at the comers to keep the 
work continuous and homogeneous. 

(4) All stones and flints above a walnut size to be removed 
by riddling and reserved for concrete. 

All sticks, leaves, roots, and other vegetable matter to 
be eliminated. 

(5) The soil immediately on the site to be used without 
admixture of any sort and to be thrown direct into the 

No water to be added without the express permission of 
the architect. 

(6) The boxes are to be filled in thin layers of not more 
than 4 in. at a time, and well rammed until solid. The 
workmen are not to use their rammets in imison. 

(7) Rammed earth at box ends to be shaved down to a 
45 degrees slope so as to splice in with new span of pis£ 
adjoining it. 

Where door and window openings occur, the special 
" stops " to be adjusted and firmly secured so as to with- 
stand hard ramming. Two 4 in. by 2 in. by 9 in. plugs to 
be built in to each window jamb for the securing of the 
frames and three to each door jamb. 

Special care to be taken in the thorough ramming at 
the comers and along the box edges. 

(8) Insert below floor level, where directed, 24 3-in. fidd 
drainage pipes to act as ventilators through the thick- 
ness of the wall. Insert wire mesh stops to exclude 

(9) Set all frames square and plumb, and where in outer 
walls, flush with finished exterior plaster-face, the joint 
being covered by a 2-in. by }-in. fillet. 

Where lintels occur, they are to be tailed in at least 9 in. 
on each side the opening. 

Provide plain picture-rail round all rooms at window- 
head level, providing plugs for fixing where necessary. 


Pisi de Terra 

Secure to floor round all boarded rooms a 2-in, by i^-in. 
angle fillet as skirting. 

(lo) The smooth surface of the pis^ walling to be hammer- 
chipped to give good key to the plaster. 

Before rendering or plastering walls, -any loose earth or 
dust to be removed with a stifiE brush and the wall surface 
evenly wetted. 

The rendering to be carried evenly round the walls — the 


minor square angles being roughly chipped down first so 
as to obviate sharp comers. The main comers of the 
house are ready-rounded off to a 9-in. radius by the special 
comer mould. 

(11) Bond brick and slab work to pis^ walls by driving 
iron spikes into the latter every few courses at joint level 
and bedding in. 

(12) Colour-wash walls with tallow lime-whiting tinted 
with ochre. Provide 2 ft. skirting of pitch, appUed hot, 
to form base-course round exterior of building. 

■■.■:■■■. ■■/■■AW 



A Swedish Contribution 95 

N.B. — The exterior of the walls of the Newlands Comer 
house have been finished in several different ways with a 
view to determining the most durable and economical 
form of epidermis. 

A trial pis6-building adjoining has stood for four years 
without any external protection whatever. It has suffered 
no damage and grows continually harder. For the sake 
of appearances, however, and for the better preservation 
of the wall from chance injury whilst still " green," a 
coating of some sort may be deemed necessary. 


The Swedish scientist, Mr. Karl Ellington, of Nossebro, 
who is basing a book on pis6 (in his own tongue) upon the 
frail foimdation of the present volume, has, in the course 
of a letter to the author, made some exceedingly sugges- 
tive " guesses at the truth." 

" I am very interested to hear that you are proposing 
to use an hydraulic rammer for making blocks. I have 
thought a good deal about this pressure business. I am 
tr3mig to scrutinise the thing from ' the inside,' so to speak. 
I am tr5dng to trace out how Nature makes rock. That 
helps us to understand pis6. Nature made all the stratified 
rocks out of what was once fine loose earth ^d mud. Rivers 
carried the mud out to sea. Waves pounded and gnawed 
the shores and got down some more stuff. The tides went 
forth and back and shovelled and levelled at the sea*- 
bottom. Some more mud on top of that, and a few 
hundredv or thousand feet of the heavy water on top of 
that — and Nature's pis6 was in its making. But why do 
these mud particles stick together for ever even after that 
stratum is raised up high above the sea and the pres- 
sure is discontinued ? That is the counterpoint of the 

96 Pise de Terre 

whole problem. What is gravitation ? Is it some form 
of magnetic or electric energy ? We don't know. Do 
particles of mud grip and hold each other if they are forced 
together close enough to be united by some sort of magnetic 
or electric energy ? Or do the particles only get a ' mechani- 
cal ' grip on each other ? However that may be, we seem 
to know now that we can make them grip by bringing them 
closely together. It would seem important, then, that we 
must bring as much of particle surfaces together within 
any given cubic space as we possibly can ; that is, we must 
have as little of ' holes,' ' empty spaces,' pores and channels 
as possible in the mass, in the pressed wall. This, then, 
would in turn make it important that plenty of very fine 
(small) particles must be present in the mass — and so well 
distributed among the coarser particles as to be on hand 
close by wherever there can be one more chance for a small 
particle to fill a little chamber that the coarser particles 
would like to bridge over. We can think of how well 
Nature was fitted for this work of shufBing over all the 
particles at the sea-bottom and under great water pressure 
till she got every particle into the niche where it would 
exactly fit. She used waves, tides, and gulf streams as 
shovels and mixers and packers, and the water above as 
' hydraulic rammer.' Looking at the pis6 matter in this 
way, it would appear that both the mixing and the shuffling 
are of vital importance. And by 'shu£9ing' I mean in 
this connection only that the Mnaller and larger particles 
get a chance to shift over a little during the process of 
pressing the earth together to hardness, so that the pressure 
may not work only and exclusively in a straight downward 
direction, but in a sort of wavy :dgzag direction as well — 
much as when a street-roller is working the macadam and 
gravel a little forth and back at the same time as down- 
ward. I have a great respect for old tools which are the 
outcome of long-time experience and handed-down wisddm. 
I suspect the presence of some of that sort of experience 

A Pise-builder $ School 97 

in the rammer described in your book, p. 59. That tool 
would do the necessary shifting while attending to its main 
intention : hammering the mass solidly together down- 
wards. Now for your hydraulic rammer — is it advisable 
to make it blow or press only in a straight line downward ? 
Maybe there ought to be two or three kinds of strokes 
alternating — one stroke with a rifled or wavy surface under 
the rammer — ^and the next stroke with a flane surface. . . . 
What sort of witchcraft enters- into the effect of AigA fre- 
quency blows as compared with blows with a little longer 
intervals between ? Do the strokes create also some ' maig- 
netic' effect in the poimded earth-mass which helps to 
fasten the particles to each other ? And does this magnetic 
charge or friction heat, or whatever it is, act more promptly 
if one keeps on 'striking the iron while hot,' instead of 
letting the charge ' evaporate ' and sneak away between 
strokes ? Two or three of my hairs are turning grey over 
these questions alone. You compliment me by insinuating 
that I might stumble across some fruitful idea for the forms 
or boxes if I speculate a little more on the key-problem. 
Well, the thing won't leave me alone, so I have thought 
out several foolish variations and rejected them too. But 
the last one seems to have a little more vitality, so if it 
will live till I write my next letter I will tell you about it. 
One is so apt to follow the temptation of ' perfecting ' an 
apparatus — at the cost of getting away from keeping it 
cheap, simple — and ' fool-proof.' By this time the idea 
has grown ripe in my mind, so that I ought to write out a 
little book on the pis6 problem in Swedish and have it 
printed before springtime. Something ought to be done. 
... I have to ask you kindly to pennit me to make use of 
the data contained in your book. To this I will have to 
add what special precautions we must observe as to founda- 
tions in a climate like ours. I intend to treat only the pis^ 
method. Cob and chalk methods are not applicable here, 
as we have such materials only in a few unimportant spots." 


98 Pisi de Ttrre 

Mr« EUingtCKQ has long been an admirer and a firm friend 
of England, and he is good enough to regard his country 
as indebted to ours for the introduction of pis^-building : 

" Let me tell you that the help you are giving me now — 
not me, but my nation — ^will work as an additional bond 
that draws us more closely towards each other, . . . Some 
of OMt people here have always looked too much towards 
the South and too Uttle towards the West." 


, Now that so many able architects and enterprising 
bodies are seriously taking up pis6-building, the improve- 
ment in plant and technique should be both rapid and 
considerable. The School of Pis6 Building established at 
Homchurch in Essex, by the Imperial Ex-service Associa- 
tion, should alone provide us with much new and valuable 
knowledge of a highly practical kind. 

It is there, for instance, that various types of shuttering 
and rammers are being experimentally tested side by side, 
and their relative efficiency under varsdng conditions ascer- 
tained. Under some conditions it is probable that the 
floor and roof timbers (destined for use in the house under 
construction) will be found the most economical and satis- 
factory form of temporary " shuttering " for the making of 
the earth walls. 

The pis6 " Test-House," built by Messrs. Alban Richards 
at their Ashstead works, was built in this way, and proved 
highly satisfactory. 

Another effective and more generally applicable form of 
shuttering (designed and manufactured by the same firm) 
is illustrated in the diagram reproduced below. It should 
be observed that wedges intervene between the movable 
shutters and the uprights. 

The method of employment of the " Mark V " shuttering 

Alternative Shutterings 


is well illuBtrated by the bird's-eye view showing the New- 
lands cottage under construction. 

In this matter of shuttering there is still, however, great 
scope for improvement, and it may be hoped that soon 
ingenuity and experience will jointly produce a complete 
pis^ phuit perfectly fulfilling all the many conditions 
enumerated earlier hi the book. 

Shuttering made by riveting plain galvanised sheet Iron 
to one side of a corrugated sheet has the qualities of light- 
ness, smoothness, cheapness, and rigidity, and the claims 
of the inventor and patentee are now being- put to the test 
in actual building. 

By yr. illhM IHetarrfi mi Co. 

100 Pise de Terre 

There now seems little doubt but that pis^ blocks will be 
largely used for partitions and chinmey stacks where the 
soil is good enough, and experiments are being made with 
a view to discovering the best and cheapest way of making 
earth slabs similar to those of coke-breeze and concrete. 

The size aimed at is i8 in. by i8 in, by 3 in., the edges to 
be tongued and grooved. 

Certain " concrete ** machines seem to lend themselves 
to adaptation for the making of earth blocks, but it is neces- 
sary to remember that sharp blows are required rather than 
a steady pressure, and also that we are working with a iry 
material. The ordinary primitive way of making pis<6 
blocks is indicated below. 

The hand-rammers are undoubtedly worth study and 
careful design. A set of three seems to meet all ordinary 
requirements, and those shown on p. loi may be taken as 
typical. They should be of hard-wood, smoothly finished, 
and provided with long handles. They should be 9 in. to 
12 in. long, and about 5 in. by 4 in. at maximum cross 

In the sketch they are shown " narrow-wa3rs-on." No. i 
is used for preliminary pounding and final finishing. No. z 
for general consoUdating, and No. 3 for working along the 
edges, against window stops, and under cross-ties. 

A South African correspondent. Major Baylay, makes 
interesting comment as regards rammers and local pis£ 
practice : 

" My experience of all black labour is, that they won't 
put any ' guts * into it. They therefore want fairly heavy 
rammers, which they can lift and drop, say a foot, and 
which will do the rest for them. The heat of the sun and 
extreme dryness of atmosphere out here make it advisable 
to cover up completed courses at once with sacking, moist 
for choice, otherwise it is liable to dry out too quickly 
and crack. It dries out uncovered at night very well, 
when there is no rain. 

• « _e • 

South Africa ^- j:\\,\v'^^^:^:> 

" The red loams of South Africa, where not too sandy, 
make excellent pis^. They or their equivalent are found 
almost everjrwhere. In the dry state they set so hard 
that moisture added just before ramming is useless. A 
large heap must be made^ well damped and covered over 
with moist sacking, and left tmtil the moisture is distributed 
throughout the mass. When about four or five days old, 
in ordinary weather, the earth is ready to use — ^viz., just 
wet enough to bind when gripped in the hand. It should 
be passed through a sieve. I use a sort of ' chicken run,' 
8 ft. long, and throw the earth on to it before using. Six 




feet of it is ^-in, mesh, and 2 ft. |-in. mesh ; the reason for 
this is that, if the earth is a little too dry, it does not always 
bind well with the previous layer. Therefore, put a few 
petrol tins of the fine earth into the shuttering first in order 
to ensure good bond, and throw the coarser stufE in 

Second Note by Major Baylay, Peter Martizburg, Natal, 

Sotdh Africa 

** I have completed a small building, and though weather 
conditions have been as bad as possible, it is sound and 
very satisfactory. 

" In my opinion, pis^-building should not be attempted 
in the rainy season in Africa. Earth contains too much- 

• • 

r f t 

m: "1 : . .! .v. - • Pisi de Terre 

> • • • 

moisturei and the power of the sun dries it out too quickly 
and causes cracks. 

*'Rt plastering. I covered the outside and inside with a 
mixture of 6 earth, 2 sand, i blue (Hyd.) lime, the earth 
being the red, rather ' fat ' earth f oimd everjniirhere, and 
the same stufi the house is built of. It is put on tUn with 
a trowel, after damping the wall. When it dries and 
cracks, rub aU over with a sacking pad covered with the 
plaster mixture, but wetted to a thin cream consistency. 
It may sound an odd method, but the natives do this work 
well, and the result is as good as one can wish for. You 
can put tar or any wash (No. 6) on this.'' 


Were it not for the fact (often somewhat embarrassing) 
that soil quite incapable of making good pisS will none the 
less produce enthusiastic pis4-builders, a warning as to the 
vital importance of the earth being really suitable might 
seem superfluous. 

The author has found some of the staunchest champions 
of pis^-building living on and valiantly struggling with 
stiff glutinous day and almost pure sand. 

Even the most vigorous optimism can achieve little tmder 
such adverse conditions unless soil-blending be resorted to, 
and even so, pis^building begins to lose points in the 
matter of economy directly complications of this sort are 

Forttmately, however, England is well ofE in the matter 
of pis^ soils, the red marls betog amongst the very best. 

A study of the country, or, failing that, of the geological 
maps, will reveal a great tract of this earth extending 
diagonally right across England, from Yorkshire down into 
Devonshire, where it ends conspicuously in the beautiful 
red difis about Torquay* 

Soils 103 

There is a large area of the stuff in the Midlands, notably 
in Warwickshire, with lesser patches here and there about 
the country. 

Second only to the red marls come the brick earths, which, 
fortunately, are also widely distributed. 

'' Brick earth " is merely clay that has been well weathered 
and disintegrated under the action of wind, rain, frost, and 
organic agents, the sulphides having become oxides, and 
what was a cold intractable slithery mass having become 
merely a '* strong " and binding earth. 

It is probable that even stiff day, if dug in the summer 
or autumn, and left exposed for a winter, would prove 
sufficiently reformed to be quite amenable for pis6 building 
in the spring. 

After the marls and the brick earths there is an endless 
variety of soils that will serve well for pisd-buUdipg — some, 
of course, better than others, but all, save the extremes (the 
excessively light and the excessively clayey), capable of giving 
good results under proper treatment. 

Before putting pis6 construction actually in hand, however, 
the intending builder will do well to submit samples of his 
earth to some competent authority, that they may receive 
his blessing. 

A fistful taken from a depth of 9 in., and another from 
say 2 ft. below the surface, should give 8uffici«nt evidence 
as to the soil's suitability or the reverse. 






§ I. General 

Chalk, as a source of lime, has always been of high import- 
ance to builders, and, until improved transport brought 
alien materials into its old preserves, chalk was in general 
use for walling ilT the form of roughly squared blocks. 

Chalk again forms the basis of a compost that, used in 
the form of a sti£E paste, has been largely employed for 
building from the earliest times down to the present. 

"'Pisd de Craie/' or chalk consolidated by ramming 
within a casing, is a form of building that has been long 
held in high repute in France and elsewhere, but which 
has only recently been given a serious trial in England. 

Chalk in all these forms, if fairly dealt with and reason* 
ably protected from the weather, is a most amenable and 
satisfactory material to build with. 

The last-named method particularly seems to promise 
results that should satisfy the most exacting critics of the 
unconventional, as it assuredly does those who inhabit the 
cottages so constructed. 

The several systems of chalk construction are fully dealt 
with in the pages that follow. 

Chalk Compost : Historical. — At the Ancient British village 

on West Down, Chilbolton, some five miles south of Andover, 

delving archaeologists have brought to light undeniable 

fragments of chalk *' Daub," with the wattle marks still 

clearly showing upon them. 

This discovery is chiefly of acad^nic interest, though 


io8 Chalk 

it is a pretty refutation to those who regard any building 
material save brick and stone as ''new-fangled/' and it 
should also serve to hearten the doubters and the timid 
amongst us who seek historic sanction for any departure 
from current building practice. 

Composition and Uses. — In the Andover district Chalk 
Compost or '' Chalk Mud,'' as it is called locally, is prepared 
and used as follows : 

The chalk is dug out in the autunm, and the frost allowed 
to play on it during the winter. In the spring building 
starts, and the weathered chalk is spread all around the 
outside of the walls. Straw is sprinkled on it and it is thra 
well trodden, usually by the workers, but sometimes by 
horses. Sometimes chopped straw is added, sometimes 
unchopped straw is sprinkled on. The quality of the walls 
depends very largely on the preparation — ^that is, in getting 
the mud to the right consistency — ^and the old hands know 
by experience when it is ready. 

The compost is lifted on the wall by a fork and another 
man stands on the wall and treads it in. It is then chopped 
down straight with a spade. Some of the naked walls at 
Andover show traces of the courses, which are usually 
something under 2 ft. in height. 

Where a course has to be left unfinished it should be 
ended with a diagonal ramp so as to splice in with the work 
that follows. 

Some of the old builders seem to have been somewhat 
catholic in their conceptions as to what constituted " chalk," 
and vague patches of earth, loose flints and other stray 
substances not infrequently mar their work and sometimes 
seriously reduce its strength. 

As a general rule, the finer the chalk the stronger and 
more durable is the walling. 

What is aimed at is a conglomerate of small chalk knobs 
cemented together by a matrix of plastic chalk and straw, 
the whole forming as dense a mass as possible. 

Winter Work Barred 109 

Grinding in a mortar-mill would probably reduce all the 
chalk to an amorphous powder, which would not be desirable, 
and in any case such mechanical mixing is quite uxmecessary 4 

Buildix^ by ranuning the moist compost between timber 
shutterings does not appear to have been practised in the 
pasty though there is nothing against the method except 
its tendency to delay the drying out. 

The drying of each course takes several days, depending 
on the weather. A course is usually jiaid right round the 
building. It must be covered up at night in case of rain, 
and when it is hard another course is laid on, and so on till 
completion. The aim is to build during 4he summer and 
autunm, and when the moisture has dried out, to render the 
I exterior. 

I Where brickwork is used with chalk compost it is gener- 

ally bonded in in the ordinary way, but block-bonding the 
depth of a chaik course is a better way of doing it. 

The exterior comers of chalk buildings are the vulnerable 
points, and these should therefore be well rounded off. 

Timber. — In the old work nothing seems to have been 
done to prevent woodwork built in to the compost from 
decaying, though in many cases it has survived surprisingly. 
In any new work, however, proper ventilated air-spaces 
should be contrived or the timber ends treated with some 

The door and window frames are fixed to fairly large 
pieces of wood built in across the thickness of wall, and other 
woodwork is fixed to wood blocks built in in a similar way. 

Picture-rails should be provided in all rooms, as chalk 
walls are apt to flake and chip if nails are driven into them. 

Lintels are usually of wood, and when plastering is 
carried down over these some form of key must of course 
be provided to hold it. 

Ffosi. — New work must not be exposed to frost or there 
will be danger of collapse^ and winter work is barred out 
for this reason. 




Repairs. — Chalk compost walls are not easily repaired in 
that material, and bricks are generally used, well bonded in. 

Chimneys. — Chimne}^, too> are usually of brick, though 
there would seem no reason against the flues being carried 
up in chalk, especially if clay pipe linings were used. 

The chimney-stacks above the roof might well be built 
in flint, the comers being rounded ofi in deference to the 
peculiarities of the material. 

External Rendering. — It is of the first Importance that a 
good weath^-tight skin be maintained, and many old 
buildings have suffered through n^lect of this precaution. 

The rendering was often of the poorest quality, more 
mud than lime, and the constant repairs that the indifferent 
materials necessitated has resulted in many of the old 
cottages becoming patchworks of variegated plaster blotches, 
when not whitewashed over, which give an Impression of 
dilapidation by no means warranted by the facts. 

Rendering. — Given a good skin, however, of cement or 
cement and lime, a chalk conglomerate wall will last in- 
definitely. So vital is the skin that it is as well to put it on 
in two good coats — rotmding off all the comers and finishing 
it either with slap-dash or rough from the wooden float. 

Also, to ensure its proper adhesion throughout, wire- 
netting may be used as reinforcement — being secured to 
the face of the chalk wall by means of cross netting or wires 
laid on the wall as the building rises. 

n the netting be of a fine mesh it also serves as an absolute 
barrier to vermin, though potmded glass incorporated in 
the base of the wall is equally effective. 

Strength. — ^Provided the wall has dried out thoroughly, 
any of the ordinary loads occurring in a two-storied house 
can be borne with ease. 

Chalk conglomerate walling, however, has no great lateral 
strength, and it should not be asked to stand up to thrusts. 

The roof, therefore, must be weU tied, and should sit 
on the building merely as a lid. 


' ■■ ■' ^r.^ ^MfSBUQY. 





"" //ifl ^^' 


.'H\\ 111 I.' -' li* •*• 

W/7LL m/i TN^TC/itD [. 


Details of Chalk Construction at Amesbury. 

(From a sketch by W. R. jaggard, F.R.I.B.A., the copyright of the Department of Scientific 

and Industrial Research.) 


i S 


Garden Walls 


Roof. — ^Though thatch is the traditional roofing material 
of chalk cottages, any other will serve that is permanent 
and good of its kind. 

The only special demand that chalk walls make is that 
the eaves shall be generously overhung for their better 
protection from the weather. 

Where, in later years, the boldly projecting thatch has been 
thoughtlessly replaced by a slate roof with meagre eaves, 
or with none at all, the walls have suffered accordingly. 

Garden Walk. — A chalk garden wall must be afforded just 
as much protection as the wall of a house and on both sides. 

The hat with which it is provided is of the highest 
importance to the health and longevity of the walling. 

Examples of garden wall copings are given in the sketches 
shown below. 





112 Chalk 

House WaUs. — Chalk conglomerate walls rarely exceed 
i8 in. in thickness, and are usually the same upstairs as 

A plinth of the same thickness as the chalk wall it sup- 
ports is usually carried up 6 in. to i8 in. above the ground 
level in rubble-work, flint, or brick, being known as the 
" Underpin Course." Any of the stock damp-courses are 
suitable, but they must be well and truly laid, as damp 
feet are nearly as deleterious to a chalk wall as a leaky or 
inadequate hat. 

No special tools are required for this method of building, 
an ordinary farm fork for Uf ting and a spade for the final 
chopping down of the wall faces being all that are necessary. 

A house built during the summer is usually fit for occu- 
pation the same autumn. 

Old Examples. — ^Those who may wish to see buildings in 
chalk conglomerate, both old and new, would do wdl to 
visit some such typical xhalk district as tiiat lying about 
Andover in Wiltshire. 

It should, however, be constantly borne in mind that 
most of the old cottages were somewhat unscientifically 
erected by their original jack-of-^-trades occupiers, that 
damp-courses and Portland cement were unknown, and 
that the advantages of proper ventilation and the causes 
of dry-rot were discoveries yet to be made. 

Secondly, a large number of these cottages have been 
sadly neglected either recently or in the past, and they bear 
the disfiguring marks of their ill-treatment upon them 

But a chalk cottage that is well found in the beginning, 
and that is reasonably well cared for subsequently, has 
nothing to fear from comparison with cottages built in the 
most approved manner of the more fashionable materials. 
- Mr. James Thorold gives the following particulars of a 
block of three chalk cottages recently bidlt for Sir George 
Cooper on his estate at Hursley» near Winchester : 

Cost of Three Cottages 113 

■■ II III II III ■ I I i>— .^iM^w»— ■ I »»— — ^— —.^— ^ I I ■— — II ii m ■ 

'' The chalk walling was done by Messrs. A. Annett and 
Son, of Winterslow, near Salisbury, where this method of 
building has been kept alive from olden days. It consists 
of working up the soft upper strata of the chalk by putting 
a bed of it 4 ft. 6 in. thick on the ground, watering and 
treading it to a sticky consistency with the feet, working 
in shortish straw at the same time. When thoroughly 
mixed by the builder's mate, he lifts up a forkful to the 
builder working on the wall immediately above him, the 
latter catches tibie chalk, dumps it down on the top of the 
wall, building an 18 in. course all roimd. As soon as the 
weather has dried this sufficiently he goes round with a 
sharp spade squaring up both sides of the wall. As this 
work is greatly dependent on the weather it is well if the 
men have other work to fall back on, and that building 
operations should be conunenced in the spring or early 
summer. The wall is built 18 in. thick to the first floor 
joists and 14 in. above. Chalk in itself being very absorb- 
ent of moisture^ the usual plan is to render the outside of 
the wall with a lime mortar, which, however, requires 
renewal every few years. To obviate this we fixed with 
long staples i^ in. mesh wire-netting over the outside 
surface of the wall to give a reinforcement for a rendering 
of hair mortar and cement gauged in proportion of i to 2 
respectively, and left rough from the trowel. This render- 
ing was done at a cost of 3s. z\^^ P^ square yard, which 
is a substantial addition to the cost of the walling, but 
so far there is no sign of a crack or hollow place behind 
it, and the cottages have kept very dry. The walls were 
finished ofi with a limewash containing Russian tallow and 

"As regards the cost of this block of three cottages, the 
result is obscured by the fact that tall chinmey-stacks 
with ornamental brides and appropriate foimdations were 
built and reinforced leaded lights were used in the windows 

^ See recipes for Whitewash in Appendix (I). 



to keep the btiilding in character with the other cottages 
on the estate, but at the time we estimated that the chalk 
walling saved a sum of ^£54 as against the amount we should 
have had to have spent in canying out the building with 
bricks made on the estate, and this had to include lodging 
money and profit, the builders being independent men. 
The ornamental chimney-stacks were put in for the sake 
of appearance, flues built i^ in the chalk being entirely 
satisfactory and fireproof. The foundations are either 
flint or brick with a slate damp-course. 

" I consider that for a chalk country this method of 
building has many advantages. 

" (i) It saves cartage. 

" (a) It can be carried out by a skilled labourer who 
can be otherwise employed during unsuitable 

(3) No fuel is required as in burning bricks, 

(4) If a suitable rendering is employed to keep it 

weatherproof, and a good damp-course on the 
foundations, the cottages are nice and dry and 
keep an equable temperature, chalk bdng a 
good non-conductor. 
*' Sir George wonders if any method could be devised by 
chemical means to harden the chalk and make it weather- 
proof ; if this could be done it might save the expense of 
the cement rendering." 


From Country Life, February 23rd, 1901 : 

"Soft chalk is practically mud, yet Dn Poore, one 
leading authority <m rural hygiene, had his model hygienic 
cottage built with it at Andover, Just outside the bound- 
aries, in order to escape the tyraimy of the bye-laws. In 
several other places this material has been used time out 
of mind. 

• • » • . • f 

••• • •• • • 

• • • • • r 

• • 

• • • •< 

• • • • • • 

• - • 

Expensive Scaffolding Avoided 115 

"The white cottages on the Wiltshire Downs are as 
good as any in England." 


From Country Life, April 6th, 1901 : 

"The white chalk cottages of the scattered straggling 
village are found in every sort of position. They must 
not be confounded with the cottages of rock chalk at 
Medmenham. You might almost call them mud cottages. 

" The house is generally both planned and constructed 
by the owner, 

" . » . The soil is only a few inches deep, soft chalk lies 
close to the surface and can be dug out with a spade. This 
is a very suitable material in the district and costs nothing 
but the labour of digging. . . . 

" On the downs there is a constant lack of water ; that 
which falls in the shape of rain is therefore very precious, 
and in some cases is indeed the only kind available. But 
a large tank or artificial well is needed to contain it, and 
the pit from which the chalk is dug out can be made to 
serve the purpose. . . . One was made watertight by 
means of a lining of concrete, and held enough water to 
keep the family going through all the dry season. 

" In another house . . . the chalk-pit had been utilised 
to form a large and convenient cellar. . . • 

" Most of them (the cottages) ... are on two floors, with 
parlour, kitchen, back kitchen and so forth on one, and 
the bedrooms on the other. In the preparation of the 
chalk, the method followed is that of treading it into a 
kind of rubble, and adding a proportion of straw and a 
small quantity of lime. 

" There is a local builder who will run up the shell of a 
house for a matter of 3^100, more or less, according to its 
size. • • • Most of the cottages are literally hand-made. 
A skilful architect who visited the Winterslow cottages 

ii6 Chalk 

fdt sure that boards must be used to keep the walls 
straight, but he was wrong. The chalk is shovelled up 
and the walls are kept straight without line or plummet. 
No expensive scaffolding or machinery is employed. Yet 
the walls come out beautifully In the end, the colour being 
an exquisite soft white. They are about z8 in. thick, 
and the slowness of their construction has one good effect, 
it gives them time to dry. No point is of more importance 
than this. It is advisable not to put on any rough-cast, 
plaster^ or paper for at least twelve months, as doing so 
will prevent the mcdsture from exuding. One or two of 
the Uttle cottages were slightly damp, but the majority 
were as dry as tinder. The thickness of the walls helps 
to fender the cottage more comfortable, to make it cool in 
stmmier and dry in winter. 

'* One word ^ould be added In regard to soft chaUc as a 
building material. Where it can be obtained in the garden 
at a few Inches depth, and especially where the cottager is 
his own architect and builder, it can be most heartily 
recommended, but there are obvious objections to its 
transportation to districts where it is foreign. 

'' The village itself is a very homely and irregular one 
without a single dwelling of any pretence. The country 
Ijdng adjacent to Salisbury Plain consists of broken, 
sparsely peopled downland, and very ornate or finished 
cottages would be out of keeping, but they would not look 
so well copied in a very rich, heavily timbered country/' 


JVctf^.— Conglomerate chalk is, like cob, vulnerable to 
the attacks of a really determined rat. 

The outer defences provided by the exterior rendering 
can be backed up by the mixing in of broken glass or sharp 
flints with the substance of the wall, where such attacks 
are likely. 

Block Chalk 117 


''Chalk" Is a term scmiewhat loosely used to denote 
the soft white limestone — the " Creta Scriptoria " — that is 
cousin to Marl on one side and to Ragstone on the other. 

In its purest form chalk consists of over 95 per cent. 
of carbonate of lime In the form of fine granular particles 
held together by a calcareous cement, its organic origin 
being clearly traced in the remains of the minute sea crea- 
tures with which it abounds. 

Hewn blocks of chalk have been used for walling and 
vaulting from immemorial times, and, where not exposed 
to direct erosion by the weather, remain to this day as 
clean-cut as when they were first quarried and a very great 
deal harder. 

The filling in of the great vaults at Salisbury Cathedral 
and in the Bishop's Palace are of chalk, whilst innumerable 
lesser buildings of more or less antiquity still remain to 
us as monuments to the excellence and durability of this 

Chalk, too, was often used in combination with flint 
or brick to build the engaging chequer-work walls that 
embellish so many downland villages. 

At Medmenham there are cottages both old and new of 
hewn rock chalk, and both the Berks and Bucks banks of 
the Thames have many buildings to show of this beautiful 

Amongst present-day architects Sir Edwin Lutyens was 
the first to give hewn chalk an opportunity of showing its 
quality in serious architecture. Marsh Cotut in Hampshire 
being an instance of more than local celebrity. 

In the great walls at the Bishop of Winchester's palace, 
Famham Castle in Surrey, the old builders appear to 
have used bricks, limestone and chalk proper, according as 
the several materials were delivered, quite indifferently, 
and with results altogether delightful. 

ii8 Chalk 

Not all chalk is suitable f qr building, that near the surface 
being often far gone in decay and much too friable for 
such a purpose. 

Even when apparently sound blocks have been gotten 
they are not infrequently found to be crossed in all direc- 
tions by planes of weakness along which they are apt to 
fall to pieces in the handling. 

From this cause the "' waste '' is sometimes considerable. 

The well-known building "stones" from the quarries 
of Beer, Sutton, and Tottenhoe in Devonshire are really 
chalk, but in a form not readily distinguishable from 
ordinary free-stone. 

The longer that chalk blocks are kept to dry before 
building-in th^ better, and the sun and wind of at least a 
year should be allowed free play upon them to dry out 
their natural sap and render them " frost-proof." 

Dining the dr3dng-out process the chalk should, if possible, 
be protected from the rain. 

For years after being built into the walls of a house, 
chalk will continue to dry and harden. 

But it is essentially a somewhat porous material, and 
will quickly revenge itself on those neglecting its Just 
demands for a sound roof and a proper damp-course. 

In exposed situations new chalk walling is liable to 
allow the penetration of moisture under the pressure of 
the wind unless a cavity is provided or unless the surface 
is treated with a silicate or other " vitrifying " fluid. 

Chalk, however, has one shining virtue in common with 
its great antithesis — it improves mightily with keeping. 

Chalk walls sometimes have youthful vices in the way of 
porosity that entirely disappear with advancing years 
through the closing up of the surface pores, which eventually 
makes a cavity and inner Uning superfluous. 







Sun-dried Bricks 

The use of sun-dried bricks in this country, is, for no very 
apparent reason, almost entirely restricted to East Anglia. 
There it has been used for generations mth entirely satis- 

J factory results. 

1 Mr. Skipper of Norwich writes of the material as follows : 





" Who, travelling from Norfolk to London, whether by 
the Ipswich or Cambridge line, has not noticed the numerous 
colour-washed or black (tarred) cottage, farmhouse and 
agricultural buildings scattered practically all along the 
countryside ? Some of these are of studwork and plaster, 
some of wattle and daub, but many are built of clay made 
up into lumps, sim-dried, and built into the walls With a 
soft clay-mixture as mortar. No lime need be used, though 
sometimes it is mixed with the clay mortar. The prepara- 
tion, digging, exposure and mixing with short straw are 
similar to the Devonshire ' cob ' work, but in these parts 
the worked day is thrown into moulds, and lumps are 
formed of, say, i8 in. by 12 in. by 6 in., or 18 in. by 9 in. 
by 6 in. for large sizes, and for inside walling or backing 
to brick-faced walls, 18 in. by 6 in. by 6 in. The walls, 
naturally, are rough in textuse and the joints are generally 
stopped up and besmeared with a thin coating or almost 
a wash of clay. This coating sometimes has lime mixed 
with it, but it is not necessaiy. This is all that is needed 
to complete the wailing, and there is a building — a malting. 


122 Unburned Clay and Earth Bricks 

that any one can see at Tivetshall Station on the Ipswich 
line, about 200 ft. long, 45 ft. or 50 ft. wide and three 
floors high, built of lumps 18 in. by 12 in. by 6 in. — that 
has stood the weather and weight of its roof for forty years 
built in this way ; 12 in. is the thickness of its walls. A 
further stage in finish is to give the walls two or three 
coats of coal tar, but it is not essential, though desirable 
where stock are kept, as cattle are rather fond of licking 
the clay, and they do not u^ their horns much when walls 
are tarred. The highest finish in this work is to cast sand 
on the last coating of tar before it is quite dry, and then 
to colour or whitewash on this. This accounts for the 
variety of colourings seen in these buildings, some even 
of a kind of pink or red ; while some yellow or buff, beside 
the white and the black or tarred buildings, and all huddled 
together or standing apart, whether covered with thatch 
or red pan or flat tiles, look remarkably in harmony with 
their surroundings. These lump walls are, of course, 
built on a base of brickwork, about x8 in. or 2 ft. high, 
to keep them free from damp. This kind of walling can 
be built for cA least 15 per cent, or 20 per cent, cheaper 
than ordinary 9 in. brickwork. Thin as these walls are 
compared with those of ' cob ' houses, they are noted for 
being warm in winter and cool in summer. When suitable 
clay is procurable a local builder almost invariably uses clay 
lumps when building a house for himself, though to gratify 
a whim perhaps, he will case the outside walk — especially 
the front next the street or road— with brickworic. But 
clay lumps he carefully r^erves for inside walls and weight- 
carrying linings to the outside walls, bonding the two 
together very much in the same way as two 4]^ in. ' cavity 
walls ' are bonded. I am not suggesting that this walling 
is as interesting artistically as 'cob/ but I do suggest 
it is a practical, sensible and dry walling, and if properly 
done it will ' last for ever,' as a local builder repeatedly 
said to me when speaking of it. Qne^can easily see why 


Use for Unskilled Labour 123 

the cost is fight — the sun and the winds do the drying in 
the spring months, and no coals are required, and also 
the clay is often found on the building site, hence no 
cartage. Actual building work naturally goes quickly, 
as the lumps are laige. There is another important point 
to notice. One may see a building complete with its roof 
on and occupied by its tenant while still awaiting an out- 
side casing of brickwork to be built round it, either with 
view to greater protection or for the mere vanity of the 
owner, for while thus left unprotected the lump walls take no 
harm from even winter exposure. Now to be quite practical 
in these extremely practical days, I venture to suggest 
that the use of clay lumps at least for inside walls and 
finings of outside walls would be an immense boon to 
the munerous cottage-building schemes now being pro- 
jected. We must not forget that comparatively few bricks 
vdll be available this year, while the cottages are wanted 
at once. Can these few bricks be better used than by 
\ forming foundations and chinmeys for the clay-lump walls 
I of these cottages ? I think not. The cottages could, of 
I course, be occupied in the late summer or autunm of this 
year, and next year when bricks will be more plentiful 
perhaps the bride casings could be added, if brickwork 
mu%i complete them. I make this strictly utifitarian 
suggestion solely to meet a very urgent and deep national 
need. Personally, I prefer the sight of a cottage built and 
finished in the old-established method of the locafity. 
UnskiUed labour only is required, working under intelli- 
gent supervision, hence immediate employment for a great 
number of men would be provided." 

The use of sun-dried bricks for the interior partitions 
of cob and pis6 cottages is worth consideration^ as the 
nature of these materials demands a thickness of wall 
which is too wasteful of space to be acceptable in mere 






\ ■ 



124 Unburned Clay and Earth Bricks 

Of the strength of clay-lump walls, there is no question. 
It was recently necessary to cut a new doorway in the old { 
clay-lump wall of a large traction-engine garage, and the 
blocks removed were throwh into a heap upon the ground. \ 

The .clay happened to be needed for other purposes, for ^ ' 
which it bad first to be broken up. 

Ordinary hammers proved entirely ineffective, and it was 
not until heavy sledges were used that the lumps could 
be smashed. 

The tractor-house in question is a large building some 
25 ft. by 100 ft., carrying a heavy roof and constantly 
subjected to vibration by the condng and going of the 

The walls are only za In. thick, without piers or rein- 
forcements of any kind, and yet the whole building, which 
is 26 ft. high at the gables, is as perfect to-day as when 
first erected some twenty years ago. 

In the same town as this tractor-house, East Harling in 
Norfolk, is a council school built of clay lump (converted 
from the old Com Hall), apparently not a pin the worse 
for a century of hard wear. 

Near by there are a number of private houses built of 
the same material, some of them reputed to be upwards 
of 200 years old and certain of them having considerable 
architectural merit. 

{Extract from " The Fartners' Handbook," issued by the 
Department of Agriculture, New South Wales, 1911) 

Adobe/' or Sun-dried Bricks 

As their name implies, these buildings are constructed 
of sun-dried, but unbumt bricks. For buildings of this 
character, material like clay, which is unsuitable for pis6- 
work, can be used. The bricks are made in a wooden 
mould, and are 16 in. long, 8 in. wide, and 6 in. thick. A 
man can mould about 100 per day. They are laid in a 

''''Substantial and CooV^ 125 

similar manner to other bricks, the mortar used being wet 
loam, or even the material of which the bricks are made. 
The cost of making and laying is estimated at about 155. 
per 100. Buildings constructed of these bricks are sub- 
stantial and cool, and very siniiilar in character to pis£ 

"A school-house built of these bricks eighteen years ago 
by Mr. Nixon, of Reef ton, Is still In an excellent state of pres- 
ervation ; in fact, little, if any, the worse for wear, despite 
the fact that walls are unprotected by verandahs or over- 
hanging eaves. During its existence It has had, first one 
coat of oU-paint, and later a coat of coloured limewash." 

" Clay limip," then, is one of the many good old build- 
ing methods that needs no proving, but only revival and 
perhaps improvement. 




Whitewashing has been frequently referred to in the foregoing 
pages as the most suitable treatment for the exterior of chalk 
and earth buildings. 

There is, however, a certain prejudice against lime-whiting 
amongst both owners and occupiers, owing to the frequent re- 
newal that its adoption usually implies. 

With a view to removing this drawback from a treatment 
otherwise so effective, the following recipes are suggested as 
improvements on the usual practice. 

Ordinary whitewash is made by slacking about zo lbs. of quick- 
lime with two gallons of water. 

The following recipes are taken from " White Painis and 
Painting " (Scott), and are reliable : 

(i) "Factory" Whitewash {inferiors), for Walls, Ceilings, 
Posts, etc.: 

(a) 62 lbs. (I bushel) quicklime, slake with 15 gallons water. 

Keep barrel covered till steam ceases to arise. Stir 

occasionally to prevent scorching. 
(&) 2I lbs. rye-flour, beat up in J gallon of cold water, then 

add 2 gallons boiling water. 
(c) 2\ lbs. of conmion rock-salt« dissolve in 2\ gallons of hot 


Mi3c (b) and (c), then pour into (a), and stir until all is well mixed. 
This is the whitewash used in the large implement factories, and 
recommended by the insurance companies. Tbe above formula 
gives a product of perfect brush consistency. 


128 Appendix 

(2) "WtaOwrproof" Whitewash {exierior$)Jor Buildings^ Fences, 

(a) 62 lbs. (i bushel) quicklime, slake with 12 gallons of 

hot water. 

(fr) 2 lbs. conunon table salt, z lb. sulfdiate of zinc, dis- 
solved in a gallon of boiling water. 

(c) 2 gallons skimmed milk. 
Pour (6) into (a), then add the milk (c), and mix thoroughly. 

(3) " L^ht House " Whitewash : 

{a) 62 lbs. (I bushel) quicklime, slake with 12 gallons of 
hot water. 

(b) 12 gallons rock-salt, dissolve in 6 gallons of boiling water. 

(c) 6 lbs. of Portland cement. 
Pour (ft) into (a), and then add (c). 

Note. — ^Alum added to a ilime whitewash prevents it rubbing 
ofi. An ounce to the gallon is sufficient 

Flotir paste answers the same purpose, but needs zinc sulphate 
as a preservative. 

The foUowing are from "1,000 More Paint Questions 

(4) Durable Whitewash for Outside Use.'^A whitewash that 
will not rub ofi or wash off in rainy weather can be made by 
mixing one half-pint of flour to a batter with cold water, then 
stirring into this boiling water until it becomes a thick paste. 

While still hot it is poured into a pailful of ready-made lime 
whitewash and weU stirred in. 

(5) Another simple method is to add to 2 gallons of ready- 
made lime whitewash one half-pint each of molasses and table 
salt. Must be stirred frequently while being used. 

Whitewash for EMerior Surfaces. — ^A formula for a durable 
whitewash for out-buildings of rough lumber. The following is 
reprinted from *' Popular Mechanics *' : 

(6) Place z bushel good fresh lime in a barrel with 20 lbs. 
beef tallow ; slake with hot water and cover with sackcloth to 
keep in steam. When the lime is slaked, the tallow will have 
disappeared, having formed a chemical compound with the lime. 
Dry colours may be added to produce any tint desired.^ 

^ Experiments and tests carried oat for the author by the Department of 
Scientific and Industrial Research place this receipt at the head of the list. 


Distempers and Limewashes 129 

It is better to add colour before slaking the lime, but if this 
is not feasible mix the colour with alcohol and add it to the 
strained whitewash. ' Thin to easy flowing consistency with dear 

Cold Water Paint that will stand the Weather. — ^A formula for 
making a white outside coating that will resist the action of the 
weather and remain hard even under the influence of moisture 
and rain. Experiments with different brands of cold water 
paints have proved failures. 

A really effective cold water paint, in order to resist the 
elements and remain white, should contain a white pigment of 
good body and some oil in addition to the water, and with this 
purpose in view the following is suggested : 

(7) To make 100 lbs. of such paint, mix lo lbs. white, pure in 
oil, with 10 lbs. bolted whiting, 8 lbs. raw linseed oil, 6 lbs. soft 
soap (made with potash), and 26 lbs. soft water. 

One quart of pale copal varnish will improve the preparation. 
The formula given is of the right consistency to apply on dressed 
lumber with the bnish. For appUcation on rough lumber or 
with the spraying machine it requires more thinning with water 
and varnish. 

The following is taken from Pearce's " Painting and Decorth 
ting " : 

(8) A London recipe for distemper has the following propor- 
tions : 4 " balls " whiting, 2 lbs. Young's patent size, and 
sufficient water to cover the whiting. 

(9} A Scotch distemper is described as : 12 lbs. whiting, size 
as given previously^ 2 ozs. alum, 2 ozs. soft soap. It is very 
fast, for passages, schools, etc. Tinting colours for limewash 
should be restricted to ochres^ umbers, lime blue, lime greens, 
charcoal or lamp black, and earthy reds (as Venetian). 

(10) External limewash for farm buildings, etc., may be made 
as follows : Lime, \ bushel, slaked with i gallon of milk and 
remainder of water, i lb. salt and \ lb. sulphate of zinc to make 
it withstand the weather. 

Experiments with and practical tests of these and other kinds 
of whitewash are being carried out, and the author hopes that 
he may find opportunity at some later date of announcing the 
results obtained 




{Extract from " Country Life," November glh, 1918) 

300,000 Cottages would entail the TRANSPoitT of 


In carrying out any considerable scheme of house building 
two difficulties will have to be met. The first arises bom the 
scarcity of building material; the other from the cost and 
difficulty of transport. These, to some extent, can be obviated 
by the use of local material, which is to be commended on other 
grounds as well. Local material fits into the character of the 
neighbourhood in which it is found and maintains its traditions. 

Very few people realise the bulk of materials, and in order 
to help them the following statement has been prepared to 
show the materials needed for each cottage and the total for 
300,000 cottages : 



Per Oae Cottage. 
Tons. Cwts. Qis. 

BaUast, sand, gravel 78 17 o 

Lime 5 18 o 

Cement . . . . • . . 12 8 o 

Bricks . . . . . . . 85 o o 

Slates for D.P.C. . . . . . o 10 2 

Chimney-pots . . • . • .003 

Tiles . . • 7 2* 2 

Carcassing timber 700 

Complete joinery timber . . . . i 12 o 

Cast-iron rain-water goods and sundries . 090 

Stoves, copper, ash-bin, etc. . . . 052 

NaUs, screws, etc. 012 

Hair for plaster 010 

Lead flashings, etc 021 

Sink, waste pipes, draining boards, etc. • 021 

Sanitary goods .010 

Whitening, distemper uid paint . . . 031 

Total . . . 199 14 2 

Per 3po,ooo< 













• ^ I 


it will be seen that to carry out the scheme for 300,000 cottages 
a total of dose on 6o,opo,ooo tons of material wiU have to be 
shifted. In addition to that, it must be remembered that the 

Local Materials 131 

cost of material is very small in comparison with that of building. 
This will be apparent from an analysis of the items employed 
for actual cost and the percentage which that cost bears to the 
total cost. 

Cottages erected 1912 (semi-detached) : total interior area 
of cottage, 772 ft. super, (parlour, kitchen, scuUery and three 
bedrooms, coal and W.C.) : 

Per House. 

No. Item. Actual Cost. Per cent, of 

Total Coat. 

1. Sundries •••... 8 2'66 

2. Foundations 16 5*28 

3. External and party walls (a) . . 77 25»4i 

Windows and doors (&) . ... 23 7*59 

4. Internal partitions . . . .36 11 •88 

5. Ground floor . • . .^ . 18 5«94 

6. Upper floor 22 7*26 

7. Roof and rain-water goods ... 34 1*22 

8. Chimney and fireplaces .... 30 9*90 

9. Sanitary fittings, water supply and 

drainslge 19 6*27 

10. Staircase 11 3*63 

11. Fittings ••.... 6 1*98 

Total . . . ^300 

These facts help to clarify the problem. The weight of the 
building materials required for an ordinary cottage with living- 
room, parlour, scullery, three bedrooms, etc., the house contain* 
ing cubic contents of about 11,500 ft., would come approxi- 
mately to 2Q0 tons per cottage ; and even assuming that there 
is only an average transport of fifty miles, this would give 
10/) 00 ton-miles per rural cottage, which is taking it at a very 
low average. In each cottage the weight of the brickwork 
represents about 42 per cent, of the total weight. It is, there- 
fore, apparent that every effort should be made to lessen the 
transit of materials required for the external walling. If, on 
the other hand, local materials are employed, this carriage 
would be saved and a great economy effected. Even if this 
utilitarian consideration were not so important as it is, the 
desirability of making all possible use of local materials is very 
great from other points of view. It would stimulate local 
interest in building and, in addition to retaining the traditions 

13* Appendix 

»■■ ' ■■ ■ I 1 I ■ I ■ . I . H I 1.1 III I—. II ■■! I ■ I ■ 

of the district, give greater hope of retaining and maintaining 
the proper architectural aspect of our villages. 

It is scarcely necessary to sununarise the advantages that 
may fairly be expected to flow from this endeavour to make 
a real start at finding a solution for the housing difficulty. First 
and foremost must be placed the saving in transport. A casual 
reader may easily imagine that the difficulties of carriage will 
vanish with the end of the war, but that is not so in reality. 
Any one who has travelled in France must have noticed engines 
bearing such names as Liverpool Street, King's Cross, Euston, 
Birmingham, and so on. The meaning of that is that a great 
deal of our rolling stock was sent over to France, and at the 
best will not be available here for a long time to come. Even 
the ordinary work of upkeep and repair has necessarily been 
neglected owing to the scarcity of men and other causes inci- 
dental to war-time. Transport difficulties are bound to last 
for a very considerable period after the peace settlement, and 
it would not be at all advisable to delay the construction of 
houses so long. The returned soldiers will make us vividly 
conscious of the shortage. Nothing could be imagined more 
likely to make them look for chances of going abroad than to 
learn that there is not sufficient housing accommodation for 
them in the village in which they lived before the war, and to 
whkh they hoped to return on its conclusion. 



" Shortly before the war I had occasion to demolish some very 
old cottages at Clovelly for the reconstruction of the New Inn. 
I was so much struck with the stability of these (although by 
no means first-class samples of cob work) that I collected some 
facts and notes on the subject from different parts of the 
county of Devon. Where bye-laws have been adopted, cob is no 
longer being used. It is difficult, therefore, to give an accurate 
comparison of costs, but after careful investigation I did arrive 
at the following results for North Devon and Scotland. The 
prices were in 19x3, and in both cases for a five-roomed cottage 

Cost per Foot Cube 133 

(assuming four to be built at the same time» including internal 
water supply, but omitting any special work necessary to procure 
supply, and omitting fencing). 

Cost per foot cnb« Co«t per foot 

00b at 3 ft. 6 in. cube ii in. 

thick. hoUow btl^. 

North Devon • . . • 6^. 5}^. 

Scotland ^. 6d. 

These prices assumed suitable material on or near site, and 
allowed something for the difficulty of getting at least one 
experienced cob-worker to instruct the unskilled men. Since 
1913 the cost of brick has risen so much that cob would now 
be much cheaper, probably as much as id. or iji, foot cube 
in both cases, and this is likely to be the case for many years. 
Suitable material exists in many parts of the country. If reed 
straw cannot be had, other reinforcements can be used. I have 
seen various materials in use, of which heather was perhaps the 
best and most easily procured. I can endorse from experience 
the comfort of these old buildings, and the affection of Devon 
people for them. The thick walls give all that a house should — 
protection from heat in summer and cold in winter. For the 
contrast, visit the new Garden City at Rosyth. Many of the 
houses are attractive, but their thin brick walls, tile and slate 
hanging are not suitable to the north and east coasts. Ask the 
opinion of the occupants of these new houses. Many of them are 
Devon bom and bred, and imported from the dockurards of the 
three towns. They nearly all complain of the cold, and their 
views form an interesting comment on modem constmction." 



{With acknowledgements to " The Spectator ") 

Through the courtesy of Messrs. Alban Richards & Co. we 
are able to pubHsh the results of certain very instmctive tests 
that have been carried out on Pis6 during the past winter. 
Messrs. Richard's experience and Report bring out two points 
with especial deamess. (i) That Pis6 work, though not impossi- 
ble under winter conditions, is not ordinarily desirable unless 
some means of artificially drying the earth be resorted to. (2) 
That the strength of Pis6 increases with surprising rapidity as 


134 Appendix 

the work dries out. It should be remarked that none of th6 
samples tested were made from really good Pis£ soil, such for 
instance as the red marls or brick earths. With such materials 
or anything approaching them, the results would have been 
even better, as me Report points out : — 

" In conjunction with Mr. WiUiams-EUis, we have made certain 
tests with a view to satisfj^ing ourselves as to the practicability 
of pist it lent for house construction. In order to obtain what 
we might term the minimum or ' worst ' tests, we decided to erect 
walls for this purpose in the winter. This we have done for the 
last three months, which has been a very wet period, and the 
following is a short description of the tests we have made : — 

" I. Two walls were erected measuring 14 ft. long, 9 ft 

high and 18 in. thick, spaced 20 ft. apart, with short return 

ends' to each wall. Wall plates were placed centrally along 

the top of each wall, on which were placed 9 in, by 3 in. wood 

joists, at 16 in. centres, across the 20 ft span. In order to 

obtain the minimum results we allowed the shutters to 

remain until the test was ready to be appUed, so that walls 

did not have an opportunity of drying or hardening. This 

condition was thought necessary, as it is quite reasonable to 

expect that if pisl it tcrre cottages are erected, considerable 

weightmight be placed on the walls immediately theshuttering 

is struck. We then proceeded to test the walls to destruction. 

The floor space provided for by the joists referred to above 

measure 220 super, feet, the load was then applied gradually. 

The load applied totalled i6| tons, which is equivalent of 168 

lbs. persuper. foot of floorspace,underwhich the wall collapsed, 

which, in our opinion, provides a factor of safety of three to 

the normal load which a cottage floor would have to bear. 

" We are convinced that very much better results can be 

obtained in this method of construction with walls which were 

first dried before .the load was appUed. Further experiments 

are to be made to procure further data on tiiis subject. In 

addition to the above tests, we have submitted to the National 

Phjrsical Laboratory, blocks made of pisi de terre, from poor to 

medimn soil, for testing purposes, and the following are the 

results which have been obtained : — 

" The following Report shows results of Tests made by the 
National Physical LaTjoratory. 

"Report on Tests of Building Blocks of Pis6 de Terre 


" Tests made on January 14, 1920. 

" First set of three blocks sent in November 1919. 

" These blocks were composed of a fine gravel containing very 

Pise Tests 

■^ I ■ < 













in indies. 





8*9 X 8*9x8-9 









^ hntoDS 


in tons 




















in indies. 

























in tons. 







in tons 







134 0.55 









I -08 

Cracked at 
on e comer 

quite dry 
in interior 


^uite dry 
in interior 

Bulged and 


damp in 

the interior 

♦ Age after arrival at laboratory. 
Seal of 

136 Appendix 

iew and very small stones. The material was said to be similar 
to that used at Merrow Down, near Guildford, Surrey. It 
appeared to be very similar to Farnham gravel 

" The blocks were tested in compression, one within twenty- 
four hours of arrival at the laboratory, and the others after drying 
for a time in the laboratory. For results of tests see Table I. 

" Second set of blocks sent in December 1919. 

" This set consisted of six blocks in three pairs, each pair 
having been rammed with a different quantity of water. 

" One of each pair was tested within twenty-four hours of 
arrival at the lalx>ratory, and the others after drjdng in the 
laboratory for twenty-six days. 

" The material used was not homogeneous, and the mixture 
consisted of a very clayey loam, a fibrous loam, sand and large 
stones. The clayey material gave rise to surface cracks as the 
blocks dried. 

" For results of tests see Table II. 

" From the second set of blocks it would appear that it is better 
to ram with too much moisture than with too Uttle. It will be 
noted that the density of the wet block was 30 per cent, more than 
that of the dry block, so that a wall could be carried higher, with 
the diy material than with the wet, although such a wall would 
never gain the strength whidi a wet one would upon drying. 


" We are of opinion, having regard to the fact that the house 
at Newlands Comer (Guildford four miles) has weathered the 
winter, without showing any signs of dampness, that pi$c ie 
terre will make a thoroughly dry house. 

" We consider that the tests made are satisfactory, and prove 
that this form of construction is of a sufficiently sound nature 
to be employed in the building of houses. With really suit- 
able material, such as a Ught brick-earth or marl, it is considered 
that the results already obtained might well be 100 per cent 

We are informed that additional tests are now proceeding 
with regard to the water-proof and weather-resisting qualities 
of Pis6, the results of which will be duly published 



,._ .'*-"., « » -•— - - - *■" ■ '" * sJ f '•■'• ■ — ' 


Introduction : 
ChaUc walls, i8 
Cheap materials, the search tor, 

Pis6 de craie, 16, 17, 107 

Pi86, experiments with, 15; in 

moulds, 19, 20; in Soutii Africa, 

22, 23 
Pliny on Fis6 de terre, 25 
Rammed chalk, 16, 27, 107 


Building materials, shortage of, 

'"Ersatz" products introdvced 

during the War, 26 
House famine, the, 27 
Local materials, use of, to avoid 

transport, 29 
Lutyens, Sir Edwin, and Mr. 

Alban Scott, cottage by, 30 
Rural housing, suitabili^ of cob 

and pis6 for, 28 

Alien, Mr. C. B., his referenoe to 

Devon cob, quoted, 47 
Baring-Gould, Rev. S., on cob, 

quoted, 47 
Beauty of cob, 35 
Bernard, Mr. Charles, his account 

of Sir Walter Raleigh's cob 

house, 45, 46 
Book of the West, The, by Rev. S. 

Baring-Gould, reference to cob 

in, quoted, 47 
Building, 37, 38, 39 
Carpentry ana joinery, 41, 42 

Chimneys, 44 
Gob tradition, 52 

Composition, 36 

Cost, 35, 50 

Cob — continued t 

Cottage-Building, reference to cob 

in, quoted, 47 
Country Life, letter to, relating to 

cob work, quoted, 115, 116 
Design, 44, 45 
Devon cob, 47 
Drying, 39 
Elisabethan cob houses still 

existing, 34 
Former conditions returned, 52 
Foundations and base, 40 ; result 

of bad, 34 
Fruit walls, of cob, 47, 48 
Fulford, Mr., of Great Fulford, 

on cob, 50-52 
Gimson, Mr., lus description of 

building cob, quoted, 35 
Hayes Barton, Sir Walter Ra- 
leigh's house at, 45, 46 
Hipped roofs, 41 
Joinery, 41, 42, 43 
Masonry and carpentry, 41, 42 
Method of building, 36-45 
Mixing, 37 
Northcote, Lady Rosalind, her 

description of Sir Walter 

Ralei^'s house, 46 
Primitive methods, 47 
Protection, 43 
Protective wash, 51 
Raleigh, Sir Walter, his cob house 

at Hayes Barton, 45, 46 
Rata, 44 
Reed thatch, 46 
Rendering, 51 
Roofing, 51 
ShtitteciDg, 51 
Strength, 44 
Thickness <^ walls, 40 
Traditional building material in 

Devon and Wessex, 33 
Training of ex-soldiers, 52 




II— Pisi : 

Bolts, 86 

Bonden, 69 

Building procedure, 71, 73, 74, 75 

Capabilities, 57, 58 

Conisrs, 68 

Cyciapadia, or Universal DicHon- 
ary of Arts, Sciences, and 
Litsraiurs, on pis6, quoted, 

Damp-course, 86 

DefiiUtion of Pis6 de terre, 57, 

Durability, 82 

Earthwork, A Manual on, quoted, 

Empaodeni, pis^ work execiited 

at, 78. 79, 80 
Excavation, 86 
Etah Jail, pis6 work eocecuted at, 

76. 77, 78 
FiUet, 87 
Floating, 86 
Foundations, 74 
Frames, 87 
France, introduction of pis6 into, 

GoriSon, Monsieur, reference to 

his treatise on pis6, 57 
History, 57 
Indian and Colonial practice, 73- 

Introduced into France by the 

Romans, 57 
Journal d$ Physique, by the Abb6 

Rosier, quoted, 58 
Lintels, 87 
Locale, 58 

Method of bmlding, 58-62 
Method of working, 60, 61, 62 
New South Wales, pis6 work in, 

Origin, 58 
Picture-rail, 87 
Plant required, 85, 89, 90 
Plastering, 75 
Pliny, references to his account of 

Pis6, 25, 57 
Plugs, 86, 87 
Protection, 75 
Rain, 67 

Rammer, the, 59, 60 
Ramming, 62, 76 
Rate of work, 63 
Rendering, 70 
Rods versus bars, 75, 76 

Vi9^'ir-<onHnued t 
Rosier, the Abb6, his Journal de 

Physique, quoted, 58 
Shuttering, 59, 88« 89 
Shutter ties, 73 
Skirting, 87 
Soil blending. 64 ; preparation of, 

66, 67; suitable, 63, 74, 86; 

tests, 63 ; to ascertain quality 

of, 65 
Speed of building, 70 
StabiUty, 82 
Strength, 69 
Stndmng, 87, 88 
Theory and sdenoe of pi86, the, 

VentiUtora, 86 
Virtues of pis6, 72 
Wire netting, use of, 87, 88 

III— Chalx : 
Block chalk, 1x7, xi8 
Chalk compost, historical, X07; 
composition and uses, xo8, 109 
Chalk conglomerate, 1x4 
Chimneys, xxo 
External rendering, 1x0 
Frost, X09 
Garden walls, xix 
House walls, xx2 
Old and modem examples, 1x2- 

Rats and chalk, 1x6 

Rendering, xxo 

Repairs, i^xo 

Roof, ixx 

Strength, xxo 

Timb^, X09 

Winterslow cottages, the, XX5, 


IV — Unburnsd Cxjly and Earth 

"Adobe," use of, in New South 
Wales, X24 

Age of clay-lump buildings, r24 

East Anglia, use of sun-dried 
bricks in, i2x 

Method of making, x2x 

New South Wales, use of sun- 
dried bricks in, 124 

Skipper, Mr., on sun-dried bricks, 
quoted, X2X 

Strength of day-lump wails, 124 



Unbusnsp Clay and Earth 
Bricks — continued i 
Thidkness of clay-lump walls, 

Cold-water paint, redpe foe, 129 
Cost, an analysis cA building, 


Appendix — cwitinued t 
Country Life, letter to, relating to 

cob work, quoted, 132, 133 
Distempers, recipes for, 129 
Local materials, importance ol 

iipiQg. 130, X31 
Weight erf building materials, 

table of, 130 
Whitewash, recipes for, 127, 128 

ntiinH> BT 


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